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Operating Leverage Formula

September 27, 2023
Bill Kimball

Jen’s Bike Co.Steve’s Bike Co.Sales$100,000$100,000Variable Expenses$35,000$10,000Contribution Margin$65,000$90,000Fixed Expenses$50,000$100,000Net Profit $15,000($10,000)Wow! Break-even analysis tells a company how much it needs to sell in order to pay for an investment. To understand how the operating leverage equation works in practice, let’s look at an example.

To make a profit, the price must be higher than the break-even point. A company with a high operating leverage, or a higher ratio of fixed costs to variable costs, always has a higher break-even point than a company with a low operating leverage. The company with a high operating leverage, all other things being equal, must raise prices to make a profit.

Both companies manufacture bicycles and their selling price per bicycle is $200. Jen’s Bike Co. pays $50 in labor and $20 in other variable costs for each bicycle made. Steve’s Bike Co. has the $20 in variable costs, but invested $250,000 in a machine that will replace the employees for 5 years, no matter how many bikes they make. The relationship between fixed and variable costs, when calculated alongside sales volume, enables modeling of operational leverage.

When sales have exceeded the break-even point, a larger contribution margin will mean greater increases in profits for a company. By inserting different prices into the break-even formula, you will obtain a number of break-even points– one for each possible price charged. Recall that variable costs are those that change alongside the volume activity of a business, and fixed costs are those that remain constant regardless of volume. Utilizing operating leverage will allow variable costs to be reduced in favor of fixed costs; therefore, profits will increase more for a given increase in sales. In other words, because variable costs are reduced, each sale will contribute a higher profit margin to the company. Companies with high fixed costs tend to have high operating leverage, such as those with a great deal of research & development and marketing. With each dollar in sales earned beyond the break-even point, the company makes a profit.

the higher the operating leverage factor, the

However, an economic downturn can lead to plummeting earnings due to their high fixed costs. The degree of operating leverage can show you the impact of operating leverage on the firm’searnings before interest and taxes .

Operating Leverage Definition

In a low operating leverage situation, a large proportion of the company’s sales are variable costs, so it only incurs these costs when there is a sale. In this case, the firm earns a smaller profit on each incremental sale, but does not have to generate much sales volume in order to cover its lower fixed costs.

It also means that the company can make more money from each additional sale while keeping its fixed costs intact. So, the company has a high DOL by making fewer sales with high margins. As a result, fixed assets, such as property, plant, and equipment, acquire a higher value without incurring higher costs.

The Degree Of Operating Leverage

Adam received his master’s in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology. He is a CFA charterholder as well as holding FINRA Series 7 & 63 licenses. He currently researches and teaches at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The following business case is designed to help students apply their knowledge of the calculation and interpretation of Operating Leverage. For more tips on how to improve cash flow, click here to access our 25 Ways to Improve Cash Flow whitepaper. Thus, the use of leverage will always necessitate a tradeoff between risk and return. Most of the calculations and models for leverage are relatively intuitive when looking at examples.

Operating leverage is also a measure of how revenue growth translates into growth in operating income. The operating leverage formula is used to calculate a company’s break-even point and help set appropriate selling prices to cover all costs and generate a profit.

This means that a change of 2% is sales can generate a change greater of 2% in operating profits. Operating leverage can be defined as a percentage of fixed costs within a company’s operating structure. It is used to evaluate a potential break-even point for operating costs or determining what you need to sell in order to cover what you’ve already spent. In addition, it can also be used to determine profit levels from individual sales.


Of course, when a company with high operating leverage and a high breakeven point reaches sales volumes that exceed the breakeven point, a greater proportion of revenues generating are pure profit. If a firm generates a highgross margin, it also generates a high DOL ratio and can make more money from incremental revenues. This happens because firms with high degree of operating leverage do not increase costs proportionally to their sales. On the other hand, a high DOL incurs a higher forecasting risk because even a small forecasting error in sales may lead to large miscalculations of the cash flow projections.

  • The degree of operating leverage is a multiple that measures how much operating income will change in response to a change in sales.
  • So, what is operating leverage, and what does the operating leverage ratio mean for your business?
  • A piece of equipment can be a great thing or it can hinder a company’s bottom line.
  • Break-even analysis tells a company how much it needs to sell in order to pay for an investment — or at what point expenses and revenue are equal.
  • Operating leverage, in simple terms, is the relationship between fixed and variable costs.
  • Most of the calculations and models for leverage are relatively intuitive when looking at examples.

Also, the DOL is important if you want to assess the effect of fixed costs and variable costs of the core operations of your business. Operating leverage is a measure of the combination of fixed costs and variable costs in a company’s cost structure. A company with high fixed costs and low variable costs has high operating leverage; whereas a company with low fixed costs and high variable costs has low operating leverage.

Understanding Cost Structures

It is easier for this type of company to earn a profit at low sales levels, but it does not earn outsized profits if it can generate additional sales. This term relates directly to a company’s contribution margin and breakeven point. Contribution margin is essentially a product’s selling price minus its unit-level variable cost.

Conversely, retail stores tend to have low fixed costs and large variable costs, especially for merchandise. Because retailers sell a large volume of items and pay upfront for each unit sold, COGS increases as sales increase. The more operating leverage a company has, the more it has to sell before it can make a profit. In other words, a company with a high operating leverage must generate a high number of sales to cover high fixed costs, and as these sales increase, so does the profitability of the company. When considering the benefits of operating leverage, it is appropriate to consider the contribution margin, or the excess of sales over variable costs. When variable costs are lower, the contribution of sales to profits will be greater. In other words, a company with higher operating leverage has the potential to generate much larger profits than a company with lower operating leverage.

High Operating Leverage

Learn more about the operating leverage calculation, starting with our operating leverage definition. Most of a company’s costs are fixed costs that recur each month, such as rent, regardless of sales volume. As long as a business earns a substantial profit on each sale and sustains adequate sales volume, fixed costs are covered and profits are earned. Operating leverage helps small-business owners understand and minimize the effect that cost structure has on company profits, suggests Biz Filings.

This is because a company that is heavily leveraged faces a higher chance of defaulting on its loans. The quick ratio is a calculation that measures a company’s ability to meet its short-term obligations with its most liquid assets. Calculate the degree of operating leverage for each of these companies. Leverage, in general, can defined as any technique that is used to multiply gains and losses. By this definition the use of leverage creates risk, and thus will always necessitate a tradeoff between risk and return. As in any situation of this sort, added risk can produce benefits for a firm, but it can also lead to detrimental consequences.

What Is The Degree Of Operating Leverage?

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