The main advantage of the residual income metric is that it measures excess return earned by a department in absolute terms. A positive residual income means that the department has met the minimum return requirement while a negative residual income means that the department has failed to meet it. Return on investment (ROI) is another metric which measures return in relative terms.

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Managerial accounting defines residual income in a corporate setting as the amount of leftover operating profit after all costs of capital used to generate the revenues have been paid. It is also considered the company's net operating income or the amount of profit that exceed its required rate of return. Residual income is normally used to assess the performance of a capital investment, team, department or business unit.