What are Profit Margins ?

The untrained investor uses profit and profit margin interchangeably. This is not technically correct. The difference may be minor but it is vital. This article will explain about profit margins in detail.

Profit vs. Profit Margins

Profit and profitability are two different things. Although they may be closely related, they have a subtle difference. Profit is the absolute number that a company is earning. Profitability on the other hand implies profit margins. Margins are calculated on a per unit basis. Secondly they consider the amount of capital that has been employed to generate the profit. Thus profitability i.e. profit margins are a wider concept.

There are different measures of profitability that a company can choose from. Similarly there are different profit margins that a company can choose from. It is common practice to convert each profit figure into a margin.

Based On Competitors

Margins need to be compared with industry and relevant competition. A 15% return may be great for a utility company but may suggest serious problems with an information technology firm. Luxury brands such as Armani, Rolls Royce, and Rolex have very high profit margins. This is because the cost that they put in is small and they are reaping the benefits of the brand that they have created. Comparing a Rolls Royce profit margin to a Maruti would not be advisable even though both of them are cars.

Diminishing Returns Analysis

Profit margins are very important to understand how diminishing returns work in the context of the firm. Using various profit margins, the firm can look at the profitability figures and find out the level of production where the costs are minimum and profit margins are high. This is the quantity that the company should optimally produce.

Cost-Volume Profit Analysis

The drawback with profit margins is that they do not consider volume. It is for this reason that a separate Cost-Volume-Profit analysis often needs to be done. Usually profit margins and volume are inversely proportional to each other. Higher margins indicate lower volumes and vice versa. There are unusual cases where margins and volumes are both high. However, these are usually examples of monopoly.


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