Break-Even Analysis: Definition and How to Calculate and Use It

Break-Even Analysis

Investopedia / Paige McLaughlin

What Is a Break-Even Analysis?

Break-even analysis entails calculating and examining the margin of safety for an entity based on the revenues collected and associated costs. In other words, the analysis shows how many sales it takes to pay for the cost of doing business. Analyzing different price levels relating to various levels of demand, the break-even analysis determines what level of sales are necessary to cover the company's total fixed costs. A demand-side analysis would give a seller significant insight into selling capabilities.

Key Takeaways:

  • Break-even analysis tells you how many units of a product must be sold to cover the fixed and variable costs of production.
  • The break-even point is considered a measure of the margin of safety.
  • Break-even analysis is used broadly, from stock and options trading to corporate budgeting for various projects.

Break-Even Analysis

How Break-Even Analysis Works

Calculating the break-even analysis is useful in determining the level of production or a targeted desired sales mix. The study is for a company's management use only, as the metric and calculations are not used by external parties, such as investors, regulators, or financial institutions. This type of analysis involves a calculation of the break-even point (BEP). The break-even point is calculated by dividing the total fixed costs of production by the price per individual unit, less the variable costs of production. Fixed costs are costs that remain the same regardless of how many units are sold.

Break-even analysis looks at the level of fixed costs relative to the profit earned by each additional unit produced and sold. In general, a company with lower fixed costs will have a lower break-even point of sale. For example, a company with $0 of fixed costs will automatically have broken even upon the sale of the first product assuming variable costs do not exceed sales revenue.

Special Considerations

Although investors are not particularly interested in an individual company's break-even analysis on their production, they may use the calculation to determine at what price they will break even on a trade or investment. The calculation is useful when trading in or creating a strategy to buy options or a fixed-income security product.

Contribution Margin

The concept of break-even analysis is concerned with the contribution margin of a product. The contribution margin is the excess between the selling price of the product and the total variable costs. For example, if an item sells for $100, the total fixed costs are $25 per unit, and the total variable costs are $60 per unit, the contribution margin of the product is $40 ($100 - $60). This $40 reflects the amount of revenue collected to cover the remaining fixed costs, which are excluded when figuring the contribution margin.

Calculations for Break-Even Analysis

The calculation of break-even analysis may use two equations. In the first calculation, divide the total fixed costs by the unit contribution margin. In the example above, assume the value of the entire fixed costs is $20,000. With a contribution margin of $40, the break-even point is 500 units ($20,000 divided by $40). Upon the sale of 500 units, the payment of all fixed costs are complete, and the company will report a net profit or loss of $0.

Alternatively, the calculation for a break-even point in sales dollars happens by dividing the total fixed costs by the contribution margin ratio. The contribution margin ratio is the contribution margin per unit divided by the sale price.

Returning to the example above, the contribution margin ratio is 40% ($40 contribution margin per item divided by $100 sale price per item). Therefore, the break-even point in sales dollars is $50,000 ($20,000 total fixed costs divided by 40%). Confirm this figured by multiplying the break-even in units (500) by the sale price ($100), which equals $50,000.

Users of Break-Even Analysis

Break-even analysis is used by a wide range of entities, from entrepreneurs, financial analysts, businesses and government agencies.

  • Entrepreneurs: Break-Even analysis is useful for entrepreneurs and founders because it helps determine the minimum level of sales needed to cover costs. This is critical for the early stage of a business.
  • Financial Analysts: These professionals use break-even analysis as a profitability and risk metric. Financial Analysts tie break-even analysis into their valuations and recommendations on a business.
  • Investors: Investors conduct break-even analysis to determine the financial performance of companies. With this information they make more informed decisions on their asset selections.
  • Stock and Option Traders: Break-even analysis is crucial for stock and option traders because they need to know how much money is needed to cover their expenses for each transaction they make. This analysis help them determine how much money to allocate a transaction and which assets would generate the higher profits for them.
  • Businesses: A broad range of businesses use break-even analysis to paint a better picture of their cost structure, pricing, as well as their operational efficiencies.
  • Government Agencies: Government agencies need to understand the financial viability of projects and programs and they use break-even analysis to determine this. It answers the question: What is the minimum level of sales or revenue required to cover costs?

The Importance of Break-Even Analysis to Businesses

There are several reasons why break-even analysis is important to businesses. They are as follows:

  • Pricing: Businesses get a comprehensible perspective on their cost structure with break-even analysis. With that understanding, businesses can set prices for their products that not only cover their fixed and variable costs but provide a reasonable profit margin as well.
  • Decision-Making: When it comes to new products and services, operational expansion or increase production, businesses use break-even analysis to help them make informed decisions surrounding those activities.
  • Cost Reduction: Break-even analysis helps businesses find areas where they can reduce costs to increase profitability.
  • Performance Metric: Break-even analysis is a financial performance tool and helps businesses ascertain where they are when it comes to achieving their short, medium and long term goals.

Limitations of Break-Even Analysis

Break-even analysis is a useful tool. However, like any tool, there are limitations to it. Break-even analysis assumes that the fixed and variable costs remain constant over time. In reality, this is usually not the case. Costs may change due to factors such as inflation, changes in technology, or changes in market conditions.

Another limitation is that Break-even analysis makes some oversimplified assumptions about the relationships between costs, revenue, and production levels. For example, it assumes that there is a linear relationship between costs and production. This is not always true. Also, break-even analysis ignores external factors such as competition, market demand, and changing consumer preferences, which can have a significant impact on a businesses' top line.

Why is Break-Even Analysis Important to Stock and Option Traders?

Stock and option traders need break-even analysis to facilitate several functions. Firstly, they use break-even analysis to help them figure out at which point their stock and option positions become profitable. Also, break-even analysis help stock and option traders manage their risks. Through knowing their break-even value, stock and option traders can set stop loss levels that mitigate their losses if the trade moves against them.

Another reason why break-even analysis is important to stock and option traders is that break-even analysis provides insight into their positions' profitability. By determining the breakeven point for their positions, stock and option traders can gauge the potential risk-reward ratio and make informed decisions as to whether to pursue a stock or option trade.

What are the Components of Break-Even Analysis?

There are 5 components of Break Even Analysis. They are: fixed costs, variable costs, revenue, the contribution margin and the break-even point. Fixed costs entails expenses that do not vary with changes in the level of production or sales. However, variable costs do change with the level of production or sales.

Revenue represents total income generated from the sale of goods or services by an individual or business. The contribution margin is the difference between revenue and variable costs. The final component of break-even analysis, the break-even point, is the level of sales where total revenue equals total costs. At this point no profit is made and no loss is incurred.

Why is the Contribution Margin Important in Break-Even Analysis?

The contribution margin's importance lies in the fact that it represents the amount of revenue required to cover a business' fixed costs and contribute to its profit. Through the contribution margin calculation, a business can determine the break-even point and where it can begin earning a profit.

Also, by understanding the contribution margin, businesses can make informed decisions about the pricing of their products and their levels of production. Businesses can even develop cost management strategies to improve efficiencies.

How Do Businesses Use the Break-Even Point in Break-Even Analysis?

The break-even point component in break-even analysis is utilized by businesses in various ways. The break-even point helps businesses with pricing decisions, sales forecasting, cost management and growth strategies. With the break-even point, businesses can figure out the minimum price they need to charge to cover their costs. When this point is measured against the market price, businesses can improve their pricing strategies.

The Bottom Line

Break-even analysis is a financial tool that is widely used by businesses as well as stock and option traders. For businesses, break-even analysis is essential in determining the minimum sales volume required to cover total costs and break even. It helps businesses make informed decisions about pricing strategies, cost management, and operations.

In stock and option trading, break-even analysis is important in determining the minimum price movements required to cover trading costs and make a profit. Traders can use break-even analysis to set realistic profit targets, manage risk, and make informed trading decisions. It is an essential tool for investors and financial analysts in determining the financial performance of companies and making informed decisions about investments. By understanding the break-even point, investors can make profitable investment decisions and manage risks effectively. Overall, break-even analysis is a critical tool in the financial world for businesses, stock and option traders, investors, financial analysts and even government agencies.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Small Business Administration. "Break-Even Point."

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The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.