economic profit

Economic Profit: Understanding Its Calculation and Impact on Business Decisions

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Economic Profit Definition

Economic profit is the gain or loss a business makes after considering both explicit costs (direct, out-of-pocket expenses) and implicit costs (opportunity costs, such as the income the business owner could have earned elsewhere). It differs from accounting profit as it takes into account the monetary value of all resources used in the production process, not just those paid out in cash.

Understanding Economic Profit and Normal Profit

We often use the terms economic profit and normal profit interchangeably. However, they represent distinct aspects of business profitability in the world of economics.

Economic Profit vs Normal Profit

Normal profit is a component of a firm’s implicit costs, referring to the minimum level of earnings a firm must make to keep an investor from allocating their resources elsewhere. If a firm only achieves normal profit, they are essentially breaking even after accounting for both explicit and implicit costs, including the opportunity cost. In simple terms, normal profit is the earnings that justify the risks taken by a firm’s investors.

On the other hand, economic profit is surplus profit beyond normal profit and is considered a measure of true profitability. It’s theoretically the profit that a business owner gets over and above the normal profit. Assuming perfect competition, in the long run, businesses are expected to make zero economic profits as new firms would enter the market attracted by the surplus profits, which eventually drives profits down to the normal level.

The Crucial Role of Opportunity Costs

To comprehend the difference between economic profit and normal profit, understanding the concept of opportunity costs is crucial. Opportunity cost is essentially what you give up to do something. It’s the cost of the next best alternative for the resources used.

In calculating normal profit, we take into account opportunity costs. This is because normal profit embodies the minimum compensation you would require to stay in business, instead of investing your resources elsewhere.

Economic profit also incoporates opportunity costs. However, as a measure of surplus profit, economic profits represent earnings obtained after all costs, including both implicit (opportunity) costs and explicit (out-of-pocket) costs. This is why we can think of economic profit as the profit that a business makes beyond what its owners would have received if they had invested their resources in the next best alternative.

In conclusion, normal and economic profit may appear similar but they serve different roles in the business environment. Normal profit is more about measuring the justifiable minimum profits, while economic profit is about gauging ‘extra’ profitability. And it’s in their considerations of opportunity costs that the two distinguish themselves, adding another layer to their roles in financial decision-making.

Factors Influencing Economic Profit

There are several factors that can influence economic profit. They are varying in intensity and nature yet they hold a significant influence on the economic profitability of a venture, some of the primary ones are discussed below.

Changes in Input Costs

Input costs, which encompass the expenses incurred in acquiring raw materials and providing services, can significantly impact economic profit. If the input costs increase with no corresponding rise in product prices, the economic profit would most likely decrease, assuming other factors remain constant. For example, consider a pizza shop. If the price of ingredients like cheese, flour, and meat increases and the cost cannot be passed onto customers through higher prices, the shop’s economic profit will likely fall.

Demand for the Product

The demand for a product or service also has a significant impact on economic profit. If demand increases, the business can sell more items or services, leading to higher revenues and potentially, higher economic profit. Conversely, if demand decreases, the company may be left with unsold inventory, leading to storage costs and decreased economic profitability. Taking the pizza shop example again – if a new health study promotes pizza as a health food, the demand may increase, driving up revenues and potential economic profit.

Competitor Actions

Economic profit is largely dictated by the actions of competitors. A new entrant in the marketplace or a competitor’s heavy discounting can erode a company’s market share and affect its pricing power, both of which can decrease economic profit. Conversely, if competitors exit the market or raise their prices, a company might see an increase in economic profit.

Market Conditions

Lastly, broader market conditions also play an important part. For instance, during an economic boom, consumers tend to spend more freely, potentially driving up demand for a company’s products or services, and consequently, its economic profit. However, during recessionary periods, demand might contract, leading to reduced economic profitability.

So, each of these factors must be carefully considered when analyzing or predicting a company’s economic profit.

Role of Economic Profit in Decision Making

In the business world, economic profit plays a key role in decision-making processes, both operationally and strategically. By considering economic profit, organizations can make informed decisions about the future direction of the business.

Economic Profit in Operational Decisions

Economic profit acts as a vital tool in operational decisions, such as production decisions, pricing, cost management, and day-to-day management decisions. A positive economic profit signals that resources are being effectively utilised and that the firm is producing at an effective cost and a competitive selling price. This can influence the decision to maintain, increase or decrease production levels.

When it comes to cost management, economic profit helps in identifying whether the costs incurred in the business are yielding the desired profits. If the economic profit is negative, implying the costs are higher than revenues, companies need to strategize and optimize their cost structures.

Economic Profit in Strategic Decisions

Strategically, economic profit is a crucial factor in making investment decisions. Companies often undertake multiple potential projects or investments and economic profit serves as an excellent measure in determining which project will yield a higher return on investment.

Take, for example, a business evaluating whether to invest in a new production facility or upgrade an existing one. By calculating the economic profit that each option could yield over its expected life, the business can make an informed decision on which option may be more profitable in the long run.

Economic Profit in Resource Allocation

When it comes to resource allocation, economic profit provides a clear picture of where resources have yielded the maximum profits and where they have been underutilized. The higher the economic profit, the more efficient the use of resources. This helps businesses to efficiently allocate their resources, reducing wastage and improving the bottom line.

It is important to remember that businesses must not consider economic profit in isolation but alongside other essential financial indicators. Therefore, economic profit should be understood as a component of a broader set of financial tools that facilitate sound business decision-making.

Implications of Negative Economic Profit

When a business generates negative economic profit, it points towards several important factors regarding its performance and state.

Business Performance Indicators

Negative economic profit indirectly tells us about the efficiency with which the business operations are being managed. It’s an indication that the company is not utilizing its resources – both tangible and intangible – to the optimum. The issue might be with inefficient production processes, obsolete technology, or poor marketing schemes leading to less-than-expected sales figures.

Additionally, the management might not be able to identify and control unnecessary expenses that are weighing heavily on the firm’s bottom line. A negative economic profit doesn’t always mean that the business is facing a loss in terms of its accounting profit. It could also be an indication that the company is not earning profits at a competitive level or enough returns to offset the opportunity cost of the invested capital.

Reasons for Negative Economic Profit

A variety of reasons can contribute to the unfortunate scenario of negative economic profit, beyond inadequate management or subpar operations.

Market Conditions

One factor could be the unfavorable market conditions. Companies often fail to generate adequate revenues due to economic downturns, reduced consumer spending, or a fierce competitive environment in the industry.

Business Strategy

In some cases, the business might adopt a strategy that leads to reduced prices and profit margins in the short term, with the aim of strengthening its market position in the long term. For instance, it might slash prices to maximize market share, aiming at making profits once the customer base expands.

Regulatory Constraints

Regulatory decisions, like increase in corporate tax rates, escalating tariff barriers, or tighter environmental standards, can add to costs and reduce economic profits.

Thus, a negative economic profit should not always be cause for alarm but should definitely solicit deeper analysis. By addressing the root causes, a business can make adjustments to turn around and improve the situation. In some cases, it might even require a paradigm shift in the business model or strategy for transition into profitability.

Impact of Economic Profit on Business Sustainability

Identifying the link between economic profit and business sustainability can provide valuable insights into the financial health of a company.

Achieving Positive Economic Profit and Business Viability

When a business generates positive economic profit, it usually implies it has successfully managed to cover its costs, including both explicit and opportunity costs. This profit, in effect, is a surplus value that establishes a measure of overall business efficiency.

Moreover, persistent positive economic profit serves to attract further investment. Investors and stakeholders are more likely to invest in a company that shows consistent returns, enhancing the availability of funds for growth and expansion. A landscape of recurring economic profit, therefore, plays a fundamental role in extending the business lifecycle and assuring long-term business viability.

Risks of Continual Negative Economic Profit

On the other hand, constant negative economic profit stands as a red flag for a company. It’s an indication that the firm’s revenues aren’t sufficient to cover its explicit and implicit costs.

Falling into a pattern of negative economic profit can lead to an erosion of stakeholder confidence, which may subsequently translate into reduced investments. This lack of investment effectively limits the company’s growth potential and the ability to weather financial difficulties.

Alongside this, a continual negative economic profit can make a company more vulnerable to market changes and competition. If a business isn’t making enough profit to cover its costs, it’s less likely to have the financial resilience necessary to survive challenging business cycles. Over time, the lack of economic profit can ultimately cause a business to become unsustainable.

To conclude, economic profit greatly affects a company’s sustainability. Whether positive or negative, these gains or losses significantly impact a business’s long term viability. Hence, to achieve sustainable growth, careful management of economic profit can make the difference between business success and failure.

Economic Profit in Different Market Structures

Perfect Competition

Under perfect competition, all firms produce identical products, and buyers and sellers have perfect knowledge. Therefore, there are no barriers to entry or exit. Because all firms are price takers who cannot influence price, they will continue producing up to the point where their marginal cost equals market price. In the long run, competitive pressures drive down prices to where companies only make a normal profit, i.e., their total revenue equals their total cost, which leads to zero economic profit.

Monopolistic Competition

Monopolistic competition characterizes an industry in which many firms offer products or services that are close but not perfect substitutes. Companies in this structure have some power to set their price as they can differentiate their offerings. Businesses can achieve economic profit in the short term by setting a price higher than their average total cost. However, in the long run, as new competitors enter the market attracted by the economic profit, demand for the firm’s product decreases, reducing the price, and eliminating economic profit. This leads to a state of only normal profits, similar to perfect competition.


In an oligopoly, a few firms dominate the market. These firms can earn economic profits both in the short run and long run because of substantial barriers to entry, such as economies of scale or high fixed costs. However, the likelihood of high economic profit depends on competition within the oligopoly. If companies within an oligopoly compete fiercely on price, economic profit will be comparable to more competitive market structures.


A monopoly is a market structure where there’s only one seller offering a unique product with no available substitutes. Barriers to entry are usually high, preventing other firms from entering the industry. A monopolist has significant market power to set prices above marginal cost, leading to the potential for substantial economic profits in both the short and long term. The monopolist will continue to earn economic profit until there is an external intervention (for instance, regulations) or a significant technological change that allows new entrants to disrupt the monopolist’s market share.

In summary, the capacity to generate economic profit greatly depends on the market structure. In perfect and monopolistic competitions, firms are able to achieve economic profit only in the short run, while in oligopolies and monopolies, firms can maintain economic profit in the long run, unless disrupted by external factors or significant internal changes.

Economic Profit and Corporate Social Responsibility

Relationship between Economic Profit and CSR

With the increase in ethical consumerism, the link between a company’s economic profit and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has never been so intertwined. Companies today do not only strive to maximize their economic profit but also work towards fulfilling their social responsibilities.

Impact of CSR on Economic Profit

Investing in CSR activities may initially appear to be a drain on a company’s economic profit due to the costs attributed to implementing these programs. However, in the long-run, these activities can create a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. Ethically-conscious consumers often favor businesses that are committed to CSR, which can boost customer loyalty and open new market opportunities. Additionally, businesses that prioritize CSR often see benefits such as increased employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity.

These factors can lead to elevated brand reputation and, subsequently, greater consumer confidence, which can potentially translate into higher sales, leading to increased economic profit.

Impact of Economic Profit on CSR

On the flip side, the relationship between economic profit and CSR is not unidirectional. Economic profit, too, can directly impact the extent to which a corporation can engage in socially-responsible activities. Companies with higher economic profits are typically better positioned to invest in CSR initiatives. They have more resources available to implement and maintain socially-responsible practices without jeopardizing their financial sustainability.

That said, it’s important to remind ourselves that a company cannot maximize economic profits at the expense of social responsibilities. Modern consumers and investors are well informed about company practices, and businesses that fail to meet CSR expectations may face backlash, resulting in potential harm to their reputation and finances.

While the relationship between economic profit and CSR is complex and multifaceted, it’s crucial to understand that these two can, and should, go hand in hand in the modern business world.

Economic Profit and Shareholder Value

Economic profit is often regarded as a more robust, comprehensive measure of a company’s performance than accounting profit. This view arises from the fact that economic profit accounts for both explicit and implicit costs, including the opportunity cost of capital.

Taking this wholesome approach enables investors, stakeholders, and the management team to achieve an all-inclusive understanding of a company’s profitability.

Economic Profit and Investment Decisions

Often, investment decisions are driven by a company’s economic profit. For example, if a firm’s economic profit is negative, it indicates that its resources might be better utilized elsewhere. This comprehensive outlook can act as a prompt for strategic shifts, may they be operational changes or capital reallocation.

Even shareholders can gauge the true value of their investments more accurately with economic profit.

Influence on Shareholder Value

Shareholder value may rise if a company consistently posts positive economic profit. This trend signifies that the firm is generating returns above its opportunity cost, optimally utilizing its resources, and creating value that goes beyond mere profits after operating expenses.

In contrast, persistent negative economic profit might decrease shareholder value. Negative economic profit implies that a company’s returns are inadequate given its operating and capital costs. As such, shareholders might lose confidence and decide to sell their shares, causing the stock price to decline.

Role in Value-Based Management

Economic profit also plays a crucial role in value-based management (VBM). VBM is a management approach that prioritizes shareholder value. Under this strategy, the management team plans and makes decisions based on their potential impact on economic profit.

By focusing on economic profit rather than accounting profit, the VBM approach ensures that all costs – explicit and implicit – are considered. This strategy helps to promote efficiency, optimize resource allocation, and ultimately advance shareholder value.

Firms practicing VBM often set specific economic profit goals and design incentives around achieving these targets. This alignment between management incentives and the broader goal of increasing shareholder value is a key benefit of using economic profit as a primary performance measure.

While accounting profit remains a widely-used metric, economic profit offers a more comprehensive view of a company’s true performance, helping managers make strategic decisions, and providing shareholders with a more accurate value of their investments.

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