Operating Leverage

A measurement of the degree to which a firm or project incurs a combination of fixed and variable costs.

1. A business that makes few sales, with each sale providing a very high gross margin, is said to be highly leveraged. A business that makes many sales, with each sale contributing a very slight margin, is said to be less leveraged. As the volume of sales in a business increases, each new sale contributes less to fixed costs and more to profitability.

2. A business that has a higher proportion of fixed costs and a lower proportion of variable costs is said to have used more operating leverage. Those businesses with lower fixed costs and higher variable costs are said to employ less operating leverage.

The higher the degree of operating leverage, the greater the potential danger from forecasting risk. That is, if a relatively small error is made in forecasting sales, it can be magnified into large errors in cash flow projections. The opposite is true for businesses that are less leveraged. A business that sells millions of products a year, with each contributing slightly to paying for fixed costs, is not as dependent on each individual sale.

For example, convenience stores are significantly less leveraged than high-end car dealerships.


Investment dictionary. . 2012.

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