What are Variable Costs?
Variable costs are corporate expenses that vary in direct proportion to the quantity of output. Unlike fixed costs, which remain constant regardless of output, variable costs are a direct function of production volume, rising whenever production expands and falling whenever it contracts. Examples of common variable costs include raw materials, packaging, and labor directly involved in a company's manufacturing process.
The formula for calculating total variable cost is:
The term variable cost is not to be confused with variable costing, which is an accounting method related to reporting variable costs.
How Do Variable Costs Work?
Let's assume XYZ Company has received an order for 5,000 widgets for a total sales price of $5,000 and wants to determine the gross profit that be generated by completing the order. First, the variable costs per widget must be determined.
Let's assume the following:
Annual Widgets Produced: 100,000
Raw Materials Costs: $10,000
Direct Labor Costs: $50,000
From this information, we can conclude that each widget costs 10 cents ($10,000 / 100,000 widgets) in raw materials and 50 cents ($50,000 / 100,000 widgets) in direct labor costs. Using the formula above, we can calculate that XYZ Company's total variable cost on the order is:
5,000 x ($0.10 + $0.50) = $3,000
Therefore, the company can reasonably expect to earn a $2,000 gross profit ($5,000 - $3,000) from the order.
Why Do Variable Costs Matter?
While overhead, generally remain level, variable costs correlate with the number of products manufactured. Because average variable costs differ widely among industries, comparisons are generally most meaningful among companies operating within the same industry., such as rent or other
When analyzing a company's income statement, it should be remembered that rising costs are not necessarily a troubling sign. Whenever sales rise, more units must first be produced (excluding the impact of stronger pricing), which in turn means that variable production costs must also increase. Thus, for revenues to climb, expenses must also rise accordingly.
It is important, though, that revenues increase at a faster rate than expenses. If, for example, a company reports cost of goods sold (COGS) only rises 5% over the same span, then costs have likely declined on a per unit basis. If a company can find ways to reduce the input costs associated with producing each item it sells, then its profitability improve. One way to monitor this aspect of a company's business is to divide variable costs by total revenues to figure costs as a percentage of sales.growth of 8%, while
Variable costs frequently factor into layoffs may occur. This is evidence that all costs are variable in the long run.projections and the calculation of break-even points for a business or project. Some costs change in a piecewise manner as output changes and therefore may not remain constant per unit of output. Also, that many cost items have both fixed and variable components. For example, management salaries typically do not vary with the number of units produced. However, if production falls dramatically or reaches zero, then
A company with a large number of variable costs (compared to profit margins than a company with fewer variable costs. However, a company with fewer variable costs (and hence a larger number of ) may magnify potential profits (and losses) because increases (or decreases) are applied to a more constant cost level.) may exhibit more consistent per-unit costs and hence more predictable per-unit
Part of being a successful investor involves making an educated forecast about how a companyrespond under different operating conditions, and one of the key determinants is the proportion of to variable costs.