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What Is Profit Margin? Definitions, How to Calculate, Example & FAQ

Profit margin is a way to measure a company's efficiency in generating profits by deducting certain costs.
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The higher the profit margin, the more profitable the company is.

What Is Profit Margin?

Profit margin shows how much earnings are generated from a company’s revenue, and it is expressed as a percentage. It can be used to analyze any company but is particularly useful in comparing companies within the same industry. Generally, the higher the ratio, the more profitable the company is.

What Are the 3 Types of Profit Margin?

Gross profit margin, operating profit margin, and net profit margin are the three main types of profit margin. Investors and analysts refer to the margins with different names, and that can often lead to confusion.

Each type of profit margin has a different equation based on calculating expenses, but they all share revenue as the common denominator. The components for their formulas can be found in the income statement section of a company’s financial statement. (If it’s a publicly traded company, the filing will be on a quarterly and annual basis with the Securities and Exchange Commission.)

From gross profit margin to operating profit margin and net profit margin, these deductions work their way down along the income statement from top to bottom. Each type of profit margin analyzes how expenses are affecting profitability, and whether a company’s executives are managing sales effectively and efficiently. For gross profit margin, expenses are associated with the production and sale of goods, and the line items typically appear at the top of the income statement. Operating profit margin involves calculating operating expenses against revenue, but that excludes interest expenses and tax charges. Net income includes all costs, and the bottom line figure is divided by revenue.

From an investor’s point of view, gross profit margin helps in understanding how a company’s costs for raw materials and labor (cost of goods sold) cut into its profitability during a specific period. A high ratio could mean either that costs are under control or that sales might be above the company’s expectations. Conversely, a low ratio could mean expenses are close to matching sales and need to be addressed. Calculating from that same income statement, a higher-than-average ratio for operating profit margin could indicate that administrative and selling expenses are being kept low, while a lower ratio could mean rising costs. For net profit margin, a higher-than-usual ratio suggests a very profitable period for the company, while a lower ratio suggests profits have taken a hit relative to revenue. Still, the reasons for a low ratio might be ambiguous because net income is the bottom line figure of the income statement, so looking upward along the statement helps. At the same time, it helps to have calculations on gross and operating profit margins to offer quick clues.

How Are Profit Margins Calculated?

Each of the three types of profit margin has its own formula, but revenue serves as the denominator in every case.

Gross Profit Margin Formula

Gross Profit Margin = (Total Revenue – Cost of Goods Sold) / Revenue

Gross Profit Margin = (Total Revenue – Cost of Goods Sold) / Revenue

Gross profit margin is calculated by subtracting expenses referred to as costs of goods sold (such as raw materials and labor) from revenue. Revenue minus COGS is known as gross profit, and that difference is then divided by revenue. The ratio is simply referred to as gross margin.

Operating Profit Margin Formula

Operating Profit Margin = (Operating Income [EBIT]) / Revenue

Operating Profit Margin = (Operating Income [EBIT]) / Revenue

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TheStreet Dictionary Terms

This ratio calculates earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) payments are made, and it focuses on expenses tied to a company's operations. Operating profit margin involves subtracting costs relating to administrative work and research and development from gross profit, and that difference is then divided by revenue. Operating profit margin also takes on many names: operating income margin, operating margin, EBIT margin, and return on sales.

Net Profit Margin Formula

Net Profit Margin = Net Income / Revenue

Net Profit Margin = Net Income / Revenue

Net profit margin is often referred to simply as profit margin, but there is a distinction from the general term because net income is profit after all expenses and payments, including interest and tax, have been made. Net profit margin is a simple calculation: net income divided by revenue.

How to Interpret Profit Margin (Example: Tesla) 

The table below shows portions of Tesla’s quarterly income statements from the first quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2021. Tesla reported its first annual profit in 2020, and the data show how its profit margins (gross margin, operating margin, and net profit margin) have performed over the seven quarters in this review. As demand for its electric vehicles picked up, production and sales increased, while Tesla managed to keep its costs—namely raw materials and interest expenses—under control.

Forms 10-Q and 10-K

TeslaQ3 2021Q2 2021Q1 2021Q4 2020Q3 2020Q2 2020Q1 2020

Total Revenue

13,757

11,958

10,389

10,744

8,771

6,036

5,985

Total Cost of Revenue

10,097

9,074

8,174

8,678

6,708

4,769

4,751

Gross Profit 

3,660

2,884

2,215

2,066

2,063

1,267

1,234

Gross Profit Margin

26.6%

24.1%

21.3%

19.2%

23.5%

21.0%

20.6%

Income Before Income Taxes

1,882

1,293

533

379

555

150

70

Interest Expense

126

75

99

246

163

170

169

Operating Income (EBIT)

2,008 

1,368

632

625

718

320

239

Operating Profit Margin

14.6%

11.4%

6.1%

5.8%

8.2%

5.3%

4.0%

Net Income

1,618 

1,142

438

270

331

104

16

Net Profit Margin

11.8%

9.6%

4.2%

2.5%

3.8%

1.7%

0.3%

What Are the Limitations of Profit Margin?

Profit margin only shows the profitability ratios of a company. It doesn’t show how assets and investments are utilized to generate profit. The income statement doesn’t indicate how cash from earnings is being utilized or whether executive management uses the money to buy back stock or pay dividends to shareholders.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The following are answers to some of the most common questions investors ask about profit margin.

Can Profit Margin Be Over 100 Percent?

Net profit margin could exceed 100 percent if an extraordinary, or one-time, item exceeded its income after tax and interest expenses.

Can Profit Margin Be Negative?

Profit margin could be negative if costs of goods sold exceed total revenue.

What Is a Good Profit Margin?

A 2015 report put the average gross profit margin for companies with market capitalization exceeding $1 billion at 42 percent, operating margin 13 to 14 percent, and net profit margin 7 percent. Having a margin at or above average would be considered good.

Are There Other Ratios Similar to Profit Margin?

Other profitability ratios include return on equity, return on assets, and return on total capital, though those largely measure on how assets and investments generate sales.

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