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The versatility of gross profit margin

gp

 

You may know the gross profit margin ratio, which is:

Gross Profit  x 100

Sales.

 

Gross profit is: Sales – Cost of Sales

and

Cost of Sales = Opening inventory + Purchases/cost of production – Closing Inventory.

In this short post I would just like to share some of my experiences on the versatility of this simple ratio. If we look at the elements of the ratio, it is easy to see that if each element remain stable, the answer should also be stable. So for example, if I buy something for €40, sell it for €100, then my GP margin is 60%. If my sales price or purchase price changes, then the GP margin changes. Then, if we think about inventory levels, if these fluctuate the GP margin changes too. Taking all this together, it’s easy enough to see how any business typically knows what its GP margin should be. Thus, if it varies considerably, there may be something wrong.

Here are two things I know the GP margin is used for. One, from my own experience, is in pubs/bars.  Most pubs/bars are susceptible to fraud and controls typically put in place by owners. One such control is monthly stock-takes and monthly accounts. A fall in the GP margin could indicate “lost” stock or unrecorded cash receipts – which further controls may reveal. Another use is to spot inflated revenues. Businesses may want to make their profits look better and thus do things like invoice for goods early, before the end of a financial year. These good may not even be bought/made yet. Thus, the GP margin may be lower. Again further investigation is needed to find the issue.

There may of course be more simple reasons for changes in the GP margin – costs and sales prices may simply change and affect the ratio. But once these have been ruled out, it is a useful indicator.

 

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Comparing profits and other figures from accounts

One thing really annoys me about how the media reports company performance – they only ever give % increases or decreases in sales or profit typically.

If you have ever studied accounting you probably learned about ratios analysis, and how just looking at absolute numbers ( like sales or profit ) can give a false picture. Here’s a recent example from the Irish Times to illustrate what I mean.

According to the Irish Times (see here :

“Irish-owned book and stationery retailer Eason & Son has recorded a net profit after tax of €2.3 million in its financial year to January 2014, compared with €2.6 million the previous year. Eason Group revenues, however, were down 7.1 per cent to €227.4 million, in what the company called a “challenging year”.”

All the above is true, but if we do a quick calculation, profit as a % of sales ( profit margin ) is pretty much the same from one year to another. So despite a 7% drop in sales, costs must also have been well managed to maintain a stable profit margin. I appreciate the media try to keep these reports simple for the general public, but a little more depth would be very useful.

Flat rate taxi fares, Hailo – reducing taxi costs?

I recently got a flat rate taxi fare from an airport in Europe – a bit of an adventure, the guy was really moving it. And the rate was of course cheaper than normal taxi fare which at airports are usually more expensive . So then I started to think about apps like Hailo (and the latest one Uber). Can these reduce taxi costs and in turn give us cheaper fares. Well I guess so. I don’t know for sure, but I would assume using Hailo is cheaper than “renting” a radio and a customer base from a taxi firm. If I’m right, will these reduced costs be passed on?

 

 

How the cloud makes businesses possible

Image from Forbes

 

I have written a few posts previously on cloud computing and how it affects costs, software and business models.

I came across a nice article in Forces which details how businesses like Instagram and Snapchat can use the cloud to grow very quickly at minimum cost. Once such businesses grow,  they can acquire a large value (e.g. WhatsApp recently), without actually having much in terms of what accountants would associate with value i.e. assets.

You can read the full article here.

Hidden costs – what are they?

Opportunity Cost

Opportunity Cost (Photo credit: maxymedia)

The term “hidden cost” is one which we are probably quite familiar – the media like to use if a lot. But what is a hidden cost? Where do these costs hide? Can we avoid them in decision-making? Too many questions to answer in a single post, but let’s start with the term itself.

If you do a google search, you will get many definitions which define hidden costs as a similar concept to opportunity costs. I disagree with such definitions as if you have identified an opportunity cost, then it is not hidden is it? Ok, perhaps I am being a bit unfair here, but to me hidden costs are those which you may not foresee when making a decision. Of course, it’s never possible to foresee all costs when making a decision, but perhaps the hidden costs might emerge if more time is given to the decision – easier said than done in a business scenario.

Take the example of a house purchase decision. This is a big decision in anyone’s life, and we normally take the time to make the right decision on location, size, internal layout, price, amount to borrow and so on. After a few years in the house we might discover we are far from schools or work, or that it is hard to heat the house – these would be hidden costs of our house purchase as we probably did not factor them into our initial decision. There’s a good chance though that we would include such things in a second house purchase decision.

Product development and advertising costs

It’s probably fairly obvious that product development costs affect the overall profitability of any product. Some products like drugs and new technology incur huge development costs. New technology, at least at the consumer end, often incurs huge advertising and promotion costs too. And simply, if sales are not sufficient, then losses occur.

As an example, consider a report from the Irish Times on Microsoft’s efforts in the tablet market.

“Microsoft’s Surface tablets have yet to make any profit as sputtering sales have been eclipsed by advertising costs and an accounting charge, according to the software company’s annual report.

The two tablet models, introduced in October and February to challenge Apple’s popular iPad, have so far brought in revenue of $853 million, Microsoft revealed for the first time in its annual report filed with regulators yesterday.

That is less than the $900 million charge Microsoft announced earlier this month to write down the value of unsold Surface RT – the first model – still on its hands.

On top of that, Microsoft said its sales and marketing expenses increased $1.4 billion, or 10 per cent, because of the huge advertising campaigns for Windows 8 and Surface. It also identified Surface as one of the reasons its overall production costs rose.

The Surface is Microsoft’s first foray into making its own computers after years of focusing on software, but its first attempts have not won over consumers. By comparison, Apple sold almost $24 billion worth of iPads over the last three quarters.”

(Above is copyright of Irish Times/Reuters)

Data analytics – the human input

English: Apple director Steve Jobs shows iPhone

English: Apple director Steve Jobs shows iPhone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Big data is a big thing in the management accounting practitioner world, and in the professional journals too. I have previously written some posts on what big data is (see for example, here and here) and I have noted that humans are still needed to interpret data. Here’s a great example, below. Before I start, just keep in mind what I always say to my students about technology – technology within computing devices is essentially dumb, it is nothing more that a series of 0 an 1 which do exactly what we program it to do.

 

This post from CSO outlines how good analytic is essential. It cites an example of an analysis of social media to predict trends in the US unemployment rate. The analysis used twitter feeds and other social media. It attempted to identify key words such as “jobs” and “unemployment”. A huge spike in the number of tweets appeared. Why? Steve Jobs had just died, so the word “jobs” was all over social media. As a human, we can easily distinguish the meanings of words, but an automated analysis or word collecting tool cannot. I believe management accountants have a key role to play in such sense-making of business big-data – after all we know the business quite well.

 

Speed cameras business

English: Bane of the motorist The bane of ever...

In July this year (2013), I read an interesting brief news report about a speed van operator in Ireland. Yes, we all hate these guys, but the article made me realise this seems like a good business to be in – even if you are hated by motorists. According to the article, the GoSafe consortium makes a profit of almost €50,000 per week or €2.5m per year. It has almost €11m debt and is contracted to provide 6,000 hours per month to the Irish state. The article notes that at least one motorist per hour is caught speeding. I don’t know the ins and outs of the contract, but if the company makes a profit of €2.5m annually, even if it does pay out some dividends, the debt owing could be paid down quickly it would seem.  The management accountant in me would really like to know what is the breakeven number of speeding motorists per day! You can read more at this link: http://www.rte.ie/news/2013/0720/463662-speed-vans/

Management accountant’s travelogue- part 2 – merendero

View of Otxarkoaga district (Bilbao) from a pi...

While in Northern Spain – Asturias to be exact – we were invited one evening to a meal at a merendero.  From my limited knowledge of Spanish, this translates loosely to a picnic area. What we in fact had was a lovely tapas evening in a restaurant with a merendero  attached. I have written before about business being child-friendly, or not as is often the case.  The merendero concept is so simple; a lot of picnic tables, some play areas/equipment, a simple ordering system where you collect you food. And, all this at minimum cost to the restaurant I would imagine – at least in fixed costs. On the revenue side, the turnover of the restaurant is probably increased quite a bit as 1) more parents come and 2) future customer (the kids) are secured. In the particular merendero we visited, there were at least 100 places outside for people to eat and drink – a sizeable increase in volume without equally high costs. If only the Irish weather were good enough to do this! But, I’m sure a clever restaurant owner could take some of the idea and increase their business success (and revenues).

The best private companies do …what exactly to be successful?

Short post this week , but no less interesting I hope. Here’s a link to a nice article on Forbes which gives the key habits of successful private companies. Article

CVP in farming

Farmers Market

Farmers Market (Photo credit: Macomb Paynes)

As you may know CVP analysis looks at costs, revenues and volumes to determine things like at what output level a business will break even or make a certain profit. This post provides a simple example of the effects of volume on the viability of a business.

Recently, a local authority in Dublin, Ireland announced plans to build a large sewage treatment in the north of the city. As part of this, a vegetable farmer in the area will lose 35 of his 120 or so acres to the plant. I listened to a radio broadcast where the farmer simply said this is too much land to lose and his operation becomes uneconomic.

Let’s think about this briefly in CVP terms. If we assume a stable price for the farmer’s products and stable variable costs (seeds, labour, fuel, fertilisers for example), then it would seem that a loss of about 25% of capacity would reduce the farmer from a profit scenario to a loss one. I am not an agricultural expert, but I would assume that the fixed costs consist largely of the equipment and buildings needed to operate the farm. If the land area is reduced (i.e. capacity is reduced), then the farmer simply does not have enough land left to produce enough revenue to cover these fixed costs and make a profit.

You can read more here.

Big data and business decisions – humans still needed

C-3PO vs. Data (137/365)

Here is a good article from CGMA magazine which highlights the importance of human interpretation of data. It is a reminder that although we have technology to analyse data which we could not do ourselves, we still need the human eye to make sense of data trends etc. and relate it to organisational context.

 

The problems with big data?

Big Data

Big Data (Photo credit: Kevin Krejci)

The previous two posts have hopefully given you a very brief insight into what big data is and how it can help even small organisations. Now let’s briefly consider larger organisations. Nowadays, even if a company like amazon can process a few million orders a day, the amount of accounting data associated with this (i.e.  a few million invoice and a few million payments) seems insignificant if we start to think about other data that might be collected at the same time. For example – and these are just a guess on my part – the age, sex, location of the purchaser, the type of device they searched and bought on, what the looked at before buying etc. The amount of data starts to get really, really big.

A report by Deloitte includes two quotes that capture the perceptions of big data really well:

“Big data is the new oil. The companies, governments, and organizations that are able to mine this resource will have an enormous advantage over those that don’t.”

“Big data will generate misinformation and will be manipulated by people or institutions to display the findings they want.”

(Source: The insight economy Big data matters— except when it doesn’t, Deloitte, 2012, available at link above)

As the report says, both the above perceptions are right. The key things about big data is getting information out of it and transforming that information into business knowledge. In other words, like many other things organisations encounter on a regular basis, big data needs to support the organisation’s strategy. This may mean being more competitive, gaining some market knowledge before others or opening up new business channels. Whatever big data might mean for larger (and smaller) organisations, I believe management accountants in particular have a key role in making in useful information/knowledge – after all, we are good at analysing information and filtering out what is relevant.

Kindle Fire breaks even – but profits elsewhere

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I have written a few posts before on breakeven, but here is a great example of how businesses are prepared to accept not making money on some products, for the sake of others. In October 2012, Amazon launched its Kindle Fire tablet and its Paperwhite e-reader in the UK and other European countries. The Kindle Fire retails at about £150, which is probably less than half the price of an iPad and about £100 cheaper than an iPad mini. In an interview with the BBC , Amazon’s boss Jeff Bezos said the company sells its hardware at cost i.e. they breakeven. This may explain the cheaper price of the Kindle Fire compared to the iPad. However Amazon earn profits on Kindle book sales, Kindle book rentals and its Prime service. In contrast,  Apple have noted they breakeven on services such as iTunes and make profits on their hardware,

Technology and new business-models – taxi despatching

English: London black cab (Hackney carriage) C...

I always like to read about new ways of doing business, or new technology can change existing businesses.  You may have seen how various new technologies have helped the taxi-sector. For example, in London you can send a text from a smart phone requesting a taxi and your position can be pin-pointed by the GPS within the phone. Now let’s take this a step further and add an app to the smart phone and then the way the whole taxi industry operates could change? How you might ask.  This post from the Babbage blog on Economist.com explains why. In several European countries, taxi users can now use apps to request a taxi. The apps ping the nearest cab, and once a customer accepts a particular offer they can track the taxi progress. All the taxi needs is the same app effectively.   This changes the way business is done in the sector as the taxi dispatcher is effectively cut out of the picture. I don’t know about other cities, but I can tell you that a taxi dispatcher would charge its drivers in the order of €200 per week or more in Dublin. For this, the driver (who suffers all risks of owning and paying for the cab) gets fares directed to them usually through some system installed in their cab. Now, if I were a self-employed taxi-driver you could cut out that cost by using an app, I’d be giving it some serious consideration. Of course, as the post notes, taxi dispatchers are not seating idle and a race is on between taxi dispatchers and app developers!

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