The degree of operating leverage (DOL) is a measure used to evaluate how a company's operating income changes after a percentage change in its sales. A company's operating leverage involves fixed costs and variable costs.

Degree of Operating Leverage Explained

The degree of operating leverage quantifies a company’s operating risk that is a result of the structure of fixed and variable costs. Fixed costs do not change based on production, so a company cannot use them to adjust its operating costs to affect its sales. Therefore, operating risk rises with an increase in the fixed-to-variable costs proportion.

A company with a high degree of operating leverage has high fixed costs relative to its variable costs. If the degree of operating leverage is high, the earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) experiences volatility with respect to a percentage change in sales, all else remaining the same, and vice versa. There are a few formulas you can use to calculate a company's degree of operating leverage.

Operating Leverage and Profit

The DOL ratio assists analysts in determining the impact of any change in sales on company earnings. Operating leverage measures a company’s fixed costs as a percentage of its total costs. It is used to evaluate the breakeven point for a business—which is where sales are high enough to pay for all costs, and the profit is zero. A company with high operating leverage has a large proportion of fixed costs—which means that a substantial increase in sales can lead to outsized changes in profits.

Since businesses with higher operating leverage do not proportionately increase expenses as they increase sales, they may bring in more operating income than other companies. However, those businesses with high operating leverage are also affected more by poor management decisions and other factors that can cause losses in income.

A company with low operating leverage has a large proportion of variable costs—which means that it earns a smaller profit on each sale—but does not have to increase sales as much to cover its lower fixed costs.

Most fixed costs occur regardless of sales volume. However, so long as a business earns a substantial profit on each sale and sustains adequate sales volume, fixed costs are covered and profits are earned.

Calculating the Degree of Operating Leverage

The main formula used to calculate the degree of operating leverage divides the percent change in EBIT by the percent change in sales. For example, Company XYZ's EBIT increased by 8.58 percent from 2017 to 2018, and its sales increased by 6.04 percent during the same period. The degree of operating leverage is shown in the following table:

Company XYZ (in millions)
  2018 2017 % Change
EBIT 14,358 13,224 8.58%
Sales 55,632 52,465 6.04%
Degree of Operating Leverage     1.4206

The degree of operating leverage can also be calculated by subtracting the variable costs of sales and dividing that number by sales minus variable costs and fixed costs. For example, for the fiscal year ended 2018, Company A had sales of $55.63 billion, fixed costs of $11.28 billion, and variable costs of $30 billion. Company B had sales of $29.32 billion, fixed costs of $5.47 billion, and variable costs of $16.38 billion.

Company A's degree of operating leverage is ($55.63 billion - $30 billion) / ($55.63 billion - $30 billion - $11.28 billion) = 1.78. Company B's degree of operating leverage is ($29.32 billion - $16.38 billion) / ($29.32 billion - $16.38 billion - $5.47 billion) = 1.73. If both companies experience a 20% increase in sales, Company A's profits rise by 35.6% and Company B's profits rise by 34.6%.

  Company A (millions $) Company B (millions $)
Sales 55,632 29,318
Variable Costs (VC) 29,993 16,376
Fixed Costs (FC) 11,281 5,473
Sales - VC 25,639 12,942
Sales - VC - FC 14,358 7,469
Degree of Operating Leverage 1.785694 1.732762