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What is 'Economic Profit (Or Loss)'

An economic profit or loss is the difference between the revenue received from the sale of an output and the opportunity cost of the inputs used. In calculating economic profit, opportunity costs are deducted from revenues earned. Opportunity costs are the alternative returns foregone by using the chosen inputs, and as a result, a person can have a significant accounting profit with little to no economic profit.

BREAKING DOWN 'Economic Profit (Or Loss)'

Economic profit or loss is most useful when comparing multiple outcomes and making a decision between these outcomes. This is especially true for decisions with multiple variables that affect and do not affect accounting profit. For instance, one decision may result in a higher accounting profit, but after other variables are considered, the economic profit of another decision may be higher.

Opportunity Cost

Economic profit is a measurement of opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the value of the trade-off when a decision is made. For example, an individual may consider returning to school to get a degree but in doing so, needs to quit his current job. The individual should consider not only the cost of tuition and books, but the income he forgoes by pursing a degree. This lost opportunity to make money, or opportunity cost, is the underlying purpose of calculating economic profit.

Economic Profit vs. Accounting Profit

Economic profit is not recorded on a company’s financial statements nor is it required to be disclosed to regulators, investors or financial institutions. Meanwhile, accounting profit is a widely used performance measurement to indicate the overall financial success of an organization. Accounting profit measures the actual cash outlays and inflows, while economic profits incorporate a “what if” analysis. For this reason, an entity may report an accounting profit but realize an economic loss because resources could have been utilized better.

Example of Economic Profit

An individual starts a business and incurs startup costs of $50,000. During the first year of operation, the business earns a profit of $75,000. If the individual had stayed at his previous job, he would have made $30,000. In this example, the accounting profit is $25,000, or $75,000 - $50,000. However, because the individual had the potential to earn income at another location while retaining the startup costs of the business, an economic loss of $5,000, or $25,000 - $30,000, is incurred. Although an accounting profit occurred, the individual would have made a larger profit if he had stayed in his previous position.

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