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Contribution Margin

A business' sales revenue less its variable costs.

What is Contribution Margin?

Contribution margin is a business’ sales revenue less its variable costs.  The resulting contribution dollars can be used to cover fixed costs (such as rent), and once those are covered, any excess is considered earnings. Contribution margin (presented as a % or in absolute dollars) can be presented as the total amount, amount for each product line, amount per unit product, or as a ratio or percentage of net sales.


Contribution Margin concept


What is the formula for Contribution Margin?

In terms of computing the amount:

Contribution Margin = Net Sales Revenue – Variable Costs


Contribution Margin = Fixed Costs + Net Income

To determine the ratio:

Contribution Margin Ratio =  (Net Sales Revenue -Variable Costs ) / (Sales Revenue)


Example calculation of contribution margin

A mobile phone manufacturer has sold 50,000 units of its latest product offering in the first half of the fiscal year. The selling price per unit is $100, incurring variable manufacturing costs of $30 and variable selling/administrative expenses of $10. As a result, the contribution margin for each product sold is $60 or in totality for all units is $3M, having a contribution margin ratio of .60 or 60%.


What are Variable Costs?

Variable costs are direct and indirect expenses incurred by a business in from producing and selling goods or services. These vary depending on the volume of units produced or services rendered. Variable costs rise as production increases and fall as volume of output decreases.  Also, it is important to note that a high proportion of variable costs means that a business can continue to operate at a relatively low profit level, contrary to high fixed costs that rerequire business to maintain a high profit level in order to sustain successful operations.

Examples of variable costs are:

  • Direct materials – raw materials that are primarily needed in producing goods
  • Production supplies – amount of usage of oil and lubricants used to maintain machines
  • Per unit labor – amount paid to workers per unit completed
  • Billable wages – amount paid to workers as per their billed worked hours
  • Commissions – amount paid to salespersons  for every unit sold
  • Freight in/out costs – shipping or transportation expense which is only incurred when there are goods for delivery ordered by customers
  • Utilities – amount of electricity and water used to produce volumes of goods and services


What are Fixed Costs?

Fixed costs are expenses incurred which do not change, even if there are changes in the volume of producing goods and services produced. These are costs that are independent of the business operations and which cannot be avoided. In determining the price and level of production, fixed costs are usually used in break-even analysis to ensure profitability.

Examples of fixed costs are:

  • Depreciation – amortization of acquisition costs for property, plant, and equipment, which is  spread to throughout its useful life
  • Interest expense – fixed interest rate on a loan that needs to be paid on a periodic basis for a loan
  • Insurance – premiums paid under an insurance contract
  • Rent – periodic expense for leasing a property
  • Property taxes – tax charged by the government based on the assessed value of the property
  • Salaries – fixed amount paid to workers or employees for their services, regardless of hours rendered worked
  • Utilities – cost of electricity, water, and gas generally used in office administration


How Important is Contribution Margin in Business?

When a company is deciding on the price of selling a product, contribution margin is most frequently used as a reference for analysis.  Fixed costs usually take a big part of the pie  – therefore, the profit margin must be either relatively lower or much higher to sustain the costs of operating a business. Low or negative contribution margin indicates a product line or business may not be that profitable, so it is not wise to continue selling or making the product at that price level.

It is also important to assess the contribution margin for breakeven or target income analysis. The target number of units that need to be sold to in order for the business to breakeven is determined by dividing the fixed costs by the contribution margin. To resolve bottlenecks, contribution margin can be used to decide which products offered by the business are more profitable among the product lines offered, and therefore is more advantageous to produce, given limited resources. Preference is given to products that have a high contribution margin.


Additional resources

This has been an overview and guide to contribution margins. To keep learning and advancing your career, please see these additional resources below:

  • Fixed vs variable costs
  • Analysis of financial statements
  • What is financial modeling?
  • Financial modeling best practices
  • Sensitivity analysis

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