The Profit Economics

The following information is required, at a minimum, to understand the profit economics of a business:

  1. How many dollars of assets are committed in each stage of each product/market business (e.g., R&D, materials, plant and equipment, finished stock, post-sale support)?
  2. What is the fixed/variable cost relationship for each product/market business, that is, for each dollar of sales, how many cents are attributable to bedrock fixed costs, how many to structured or discretionary costs, and how many to out-of-pocket costs?
  3. How do costs and profit change with swings in volume?
  4. What is the break-even point at current volume and what actions could be taken to bring that break-even point down should volume potential decline?
  5. What is the rate of incremental profit on each added increment of volume? What are the volume points where new increments of structured cost must be added?

A net profit and loss statement (after all allocations) and a balance sheet for each product line are essential for generating answers to these questions. Despite their claim that “we know all that,” very few managers actually have this information readily available.

Actually, most accounting systems are not designed to provide these kinds of statements and the accountants will argue that you can’t get them because many products run over the same machines, a lot of indirect costs can’t be allocated, and so on. To which we say, baloney! Shared fixed and indirect charges often represent the most serious cost problems in business situations where a cost disadvantage exists. And they are impossible to attack in the aggregate. They must be broken down and assigned to a discrete business unit even if done arbitrarily. Then a manager with hands-on responsibility can argue about fairness and whether there is value received for the costs involved. Although this is obviously not a precise exercise, it is effective and essential. Without full cost profit and loss and balance sheet statements managers cannot really understand the profit economics of their business. Further, they can’t make the types of intelligent business decisions and plans so important in today’s environment.

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