Tag Archive | Variable cost

What cost can you sell at?


Factory (Photo credit: howzey)

In this post, I recount a conversation I had with a great mentor some years ago. It questioned my notion of what costs are relevant and how to set prices once a plant/factory is not at full capacity.

In a factory ( or any business perhaps ) when there is free capacity we can start to look at the make up of costs a little closer. Traditionally, management accounting would suggest we should at least cover all variable costs in the selling price. But think about it like this – if we have spare capacity, then perhaps the only additional cost is the material cost. Let’s assume we have a machine with a full crew, but not at full capacity. The fixed costs of the machine are just that – fixed, and we cannot avoid them. The labour costs are in effect fixed too, as workers will be paid. So, in this case, only the material costs are relevant. And this, any selling price above the material cost contributes to profit.

Yes, there may be many simplistic assumptions in the above. However, it made me think back then and I always give this example to my students. It is of course an example of throughput accounting, which I will mention next week.

Management accountant’s travelogue- part 1 – free ferry trips

English: Holyhead ferry port Irish Ferries' Ul...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sorry about the somewhat cheesy title ! This summer, I spent about 3 weeks on a driving holiday in France and Spain. I love driving to Europe – no airports, luggage limit is a much as you can carry in your car, and you can stop when you want where you want. I drove just over 3,000 miles and stayed in some beautiful places. During my journey, the old business brain was not completely switched off so I’d like to share some things I noticed and thought about.  Of course, they will be related to management accounting one way or another.

The first thing I noticed was that the ferry trip to France gave us a free trip to the UK. A free something is nothing new – you can lots of examples of free products, two for three deals etc. in books like Freakonomics and Undercover Economist. The deal was simply I got a free trip in a car ferry to the UK for a car and 2 adults once I completed my trip to Europe. On my return, I phoned and all went perfect. I had to pay a small amount for the kids, but we got the dates we wanted. So how much is this promotion costing the ferry company. I guess there are two ways of looking at it:

1) it costs them the lost revenue from two other paying passengers with a car – so a sort of opportunity cost

2) it costs nil, and in fact increases contribution.

Which one would you use if you were making the decision/reporting to management ? I’d go with the second view, especially in off-season. The ferry in question hardly ever leaves the Irish Sea – going back and forward to the UK three times every 24 hours, all year round. In off-season, the boat is not full – but the costs of running it are the same – both fixed and variable costs. Thus, any extra monies I spend – buying food for example – reduces the fixed costs burden. If I were to think about this free trip in full cost terms, I would probably not offer it to passengers as the fixed cost are unlikely to be covered. This would be the wrong decision in my view, as anything that contributes to the bottom line is better that nothing, or suffering the fixed costs regardless.

Tune in over the coming weeks for some more holiday stories.

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.

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