Financial Risk vs. Business Risk: An Overview

Financial risk and business risk are two different types of warning signs that investors must investigate when considering making an investment. Financial risk refers to a company's ability to manage its debt and financial leverage, while business risk refers to the company's ability to generate sufficient revenue to cover its operational expenses.

An alternate way of viewing the difference is to see financial risk as the risk that a company may default on its debt payments and business risk as the risk that the company will be unable to function as a profitable enterprise.

Financial Risk

A company's financial risk is related to the company's use of financial leverage and debt financing, rather than the operational risk of making the company a profitable enterprise.

Financial risk is concerned with a company's ability to generate sufficient cash flow to be able to make interest payments on financing or meet other debt-related obligations. A company with a relatively higher level of debt financing carries a higher level of financial risk since there is a greater possibility of the company not being able to meet its financial obligations and becoming insolvent.

Some of the factors that may affect a company's financial risk are interest rate changes and the overall percentage of its debt financing. Companies with greater amounts of equity financing are in a better position to handle their debt burden. One of the primary financial risk ratios that analysts and investors consider to determine a company's financial soundness is the debt/equity ratio, which measures the relative percentage of debt and equity financing.

Debt/Equity Ratio = Total Liabilities / Shareholders' Equity

Foreign currency exchange rate risk is a part of the overall financial risk for companies that do a substantial amount of business in foreign countries.

Business Risk

Business risk refers to the basic viability of a business—the question of whether a company will be able to make sufficient sales and generate sufficient revenues to cover its operational expenses and turn a profit. While financial risk is concerned with the costs of financing, business risk is concerned with all the other expenses a business must cover to remain operational and functioning. These expenses include salaries, production costs, facility rent, and office and administrative expenses.

The level of a company's business risk is influenced by factors such as the cost of goods, profit margins, competition, and the overall level of demand for the products or services that it sells.

Special Considerations

Business risk is often categorized into systematic risk and unsystematic risk. Systematic risk refers to the general level of risk associated with any business enterprise, the basic risk resulting from fluctuating economic, political, and market conditions. Systematic risk is an inherent business risk that companies usually have little control over, other than their ability to anticipate and react to changing conditions.

Unsystematic risk, however, refers to the risks related to the specific business in which a company is engaged. A company can reduce its level of unsystematic risk through good management decisions regarding costs, expenses, investments, and marketing. Operating leverage and free cash flow are metrics that investors use to assess a company's operational efficiency and management of financial resources.

Key Takeaways

  • Financial risk refers to a company's ability to manage its debt and financial leverage.
  • Business risk refers to the company's ability to generate sufficient revenue to cover its operational expenses.
  • With financial risk, there is a concern that a company may default on its debt payments.
  • With business risk, the concern is that the company will be unable to function as a profitable enterprise.