Operating Leverage

An operating leverage ratio refers to the percentage or ratio of fixed costs to variable costs. A company that has high operating leverage bears a large proportion of fixed costs in its operations and is a capital intensive firm. Small changes in sales volume would result in a large change in earnings and return on investment. A negative scenario for this type of company could be when its high fixed costs are not covered by earnings because the market demand for the product decreases. An example of a capital-intensive business is an automobile manufacturing company.

If the ratio of fixed costs to revenue is high (i.e., >50%)  the company has significant operating leverage.  If the ratio of fixed costs to revenue is low (i.e., <20%) the company has little operating leverage.

Financial Leverage

A financial leverage ratio refers to the amount of obligation or debt a company has been or will be using to finance its business operations. Using borrowed funds, instead of equity funds, can really improve the company’s return on equity and earnings per share, provided that the increase in earnings is greater than the interest paid on the loans. Excessive use of financing can lead to default and bankruptcy.  See the most common financial leverage ratios outlined above.

Combined Leverage

A combined leverage ratio refers to the combination of using operating leverage and financial leverage. For example, when viewing the balance sheet and income statement, operating leverage influences the upper half of the income statement through operating income while the lower half consists of financial leverage, wherein earnings per share to the stockholders can be assessed.