What Is an Operating Margin?

The operating margin measures how much profit a company makes on a dollar of sales, after paying for variable costs of production, such as wages and raw materials, but before paying interest or tax. It is calculated by dividing a company’s operating profit by its net sales.

The Formula for Operating Margin Is

Operating Margin=Operating EarningsRevenue\begin{aligned} \text{Operating Margin}=\frac{\text{Operating Earnings}}{\text{Revenue}} \end{aligned}Operating Margin=RevenueOperating Earnings

How to Calculate Operating Margin

When calculating an operating margin, operating earnings is the same thing as EBIT, or earnings before interest and taxes. EBIT, or operating earnings, is revenue minus cost of goods sold and the regular selling, general, and administrative costs of running the business, excluding interest and taxes.

1:26

Calculating Operating Margin

What Does the Operating Margin Tell You?

A company’s operating margin, also known as return on sales, is a good indicator of how well it is being managed and how risky it is. It shows the proportion of revenues that are available to cover non-operating costs, like paying interest, which is why investors and lenders pay close attention to it. Highly variable operating margins are a prime indicator of business risk. By the same token, looking at a company’s past operating margins is a good way to gauge whether a big improvement in earnings is likely to last.

How to Calculate Operating Margin

To calculate a company's operating margin, divide its operating income by its net sales revenue:

Operating Profit Margin=OI/SRwhere:OI = Operating incomeSR = Sales revenue\begin{aligned} &\text{Operating Profit Margin}=\text{OI/SR}\\ &\textbf{where:}\\ &\text{OI = Operating income}\\ &\text{SR = Sales revenue}\\ \end{aligned}Operating Profit Margin=OI/SRwhere:OI = Operating incomeSR = Sales revenue

Operating income is often called earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT). Operating income or EBIT is the income that is left on the income statement, after all operating costs and overhead, such as selling costs, administration expenses and cost of goods sold (COGS) are subtracted:

EBIT=Gross Income(OE + DA)where:OE = Operating expensesDA = Depreciation and amortization\begin{aligned} &\text{EBIT}=\text{Gross Income}-\left(\text{OE + DA}\right)\\ &\textbf{where:}\\ &\text{OE = Operating expenses}\\ &\text{DA = Depreciation and amortization}\\ \end{aligned}EBIT=Gross Income(OE + DA)where:OE = Operating expensesDA = Depreciation and amortization

Limitations of Operating Margin

Operating margin should only be used to compare companies that operate in the same industry and, ideally, have similar business models and annual sales. Companies in different industries with wildly different business models have very different operating margins, so comparing them would be meaningless.

To make it easier to compare profitability between companies and industries, many analysts use a profitability ratio which eliminates the effects of financing, accounting, and tax policies: earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). For example, by adding back depreciation, the operating margins of big manufacturing firms and heavy industrial companies are more comparable.

EBITDA is sometimes used as a proxy for operating cash flow, because it excludes non-cash expenses, such as depreciation. However, EBITDA does not equal cash flow. This is because it does not adjust for any increase in working capital or account for capital expenditure that is needed to support production and maintain a company’s asset base—as operating cash flow does.

Other Use for Operating Margin

Operating margin is sometimes used by managers to see which company projects are adding most to the bottom line. However, how to allocate overhead can be a complicating factor.

For related insight, read more about analyzing operating margins.