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Return On Investment (ROI)

Return on investment (ROI) is a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency or profitability of an investment or compare the efficiency of a number of different investments. ROI tries to directly measure the amount of return on a particular investment, relative to the investment’s cost.

To calculate ROI, the benefit (or return) of an investment is divided by the cost of the investment. The result is expressed as a percentage or a ratio.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Return on Investment (ROI) is a popular profitability metric used to evaluate how well an investment has performed.
  • ROI is expressed as a percentage and is calculated by dividing an investment’s net profit (or loss) by its initial cost or outlay.
  • ROI can be used to make apples-to-apples comparisons and rank investments in different projects or assets.
  • ROI does not take into account the holding period or passage of time, and so it can miss opportunity costs of investing elsewhere.
  • Whether or not something delivers a good ROI should be compared relative to other available opportunities.

Why Is ROI a Useful Measurement?

ROI is a popular metric because of its versatility and simplicity. Essentially, ROI can be used as a rudimentary gauge of an investment’s profitability. This could be the ROI on a stock investment, the ROI a company expects on expanding a factory, or the ROI generated in a real estate transaction.

The calculation itself is not too complicated, and it is relatively easy to interpret for its wide range of applications. If an investment’s ROI is net positive, it is probably worthwhile. But if other opportunities with higher ROIs are available, these signals can help investors eliminate or select the best options. Likewise, investors should avoid negative ROIs, which imply a net loss.

For example, suppose Jo invested $1,000 in Slice Pizza Corp. in 2017 and sold the shares for a total of $1,200 one year later. To calculate the return on this investment, divide the net profits ($1,200 – $1,000 = $200) by the investment cost ($1,000), for an ROI of $200/$1,000, or 20%.

With this information, one could compare the investment in Slice Pizza with any other projects. Suppose Jo also invested $2,000 in Big-Sale Stores Inc. in 2014 and sold the shares for a total of $2,800 in 2017. The ROI on Jo’s holdings in Big-Sale would be $800/$2,000, or 40%.

What Are the Wider Applications of Return On Investment (ROI)?

Recently, certain investors and businesses have taken an interest in the development of new forms of ROIs, called social return on investment (SROI). SROI was initially developed in the late 1990s and takes into account broader impacts of projects using extra-financial value (i.e., social and environmental metrics not currently reflected in conventional financial accounts).

SROI helps understand the value proposition of certain environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria used in socially responsible investing (SRI) practices.1 For instance, a company may decide to recycle water in its factories and replace its lighting with all LED bulbs. These undertakings have an immediate cost that may negatively impact traditional ROI—however, the net benefit to society and the environment could lead to a positive SROI.

There are several other new variations of ROIs that have been developed for particular purposes. Social media statistics ROI pinpoints the effectiveness of social media campaigns—for example how many clicks or likes are generated for a unit of effort. Similarly, marketing statistics ROI tries to identify the return attributable to advertising or marketing campaigns.

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