Efficiency ratios

Efficiency ratios measure the ability of a business to use its assets and liabilities to generate sales. A highly efficient organization has minimized its net investment in assets, and so requires less capital and debt in order to remain in operation. In the case of assets, efficiency ratios compare an aggregated set of assets to sales or the cost of goods sold. In the case of liabilities, the main efficiency ratio compares payables to total purchases from suppliers. The following are considered to be efficiency ratios:

  • Accounts receivable turnover. Calculated as credit sales divided by average accounts receivable. A high turnover rate can be achieved by being selective about only dealing with high-grade customers, as well as by limiting the amount of credit granted and engaging in aggressive collection activities.
  • Inventory turnover. Calculated as the cost of goods sold divided by average inventory. A high turnover rate can be achieved by minimizing inventory levels, using a just-in-time production system, and using common parts for all products manufactured, among other methods.
  • Fixed asset turnover. Calculated as sales divided by average fixed assets. A high turnover ratio can be achieved by outsourcing the more asset-intensive production to suppliers, maintaining high equipment utilization levels, and avoiding investments in excessively expensive equipment.
  • Accounts payable turnover. Calculated as total purchases from suppliers divided by average payables. Changes to this ratio are limited by the underlying payment terms agreed to with suppliers.

Efficiency ratios are used to judge the management of a business. If an asset-related ratio is high, this implies that the management team is effective in using the minimum amount of assets in relation to a given amount of sales. Conversely, a low liability-related ratio implies management effectiveness, since payables are being stretched.

The use of efficiency ratios can have negative effects on a business. For example, a low rate of liability turnover could be related to deliberate payment delays past terms, which could result in a company being denied further credit by its suppliers. Also, the desire to achieve a high asset ratio could drive management to cut back on necessary investments in fixed assets, or to stock finished goods in such low volumes that deliveries to customers are delayed. Thus, undue attention to efficiency ratios may not be in the long-term interests of a business.