Shareholders' equity is the net of an organization's assets and liabilities. If all of a company's assets were to be liquidated and its liabilities settled at their book values, the remainder (which is shareholders' equity) would be paid out to shareholders. However, since market values rarely match book values, the actual amount paid out would likely be different.
If total assets exceed total liabilities, then shareholders' equity will be a positive figure. Positive equity is an indicator of the viability of a business, since it suggests that employees are managing the company in a prudent manner. In addition, positive equity suggests that there may be reserves that can be used if the company encounters difficult times in the future. If total assets are less than total liabilities, then shareholders' equity will be a negative number. Negative equity is an indicator that a business is poorly run and has no reserves to protect it, and so is at risk of bankruptcy.
As an example of the shareholders' equity calculation, ABC Corporation has total assets of $1,000,000 and total liabilities of $800,000. Therefore, its shareholders' equity is $200,000.