The return on sales is a ratio used to derive the proportion of profits generated from sales. The concept is useful for determining the ability of management to efficiently generate a profit from a given level of sales. An increasing return indicates an improvement in operating efficiency, while a recurring decline is a strong indicator of impending financial distress.
Earnings before interest and taxes ÷ Net sales = Return on sales
For example, a business reports net profits of $50,000, interest expense of $10,000, and taxes of $15,000. The net sales reported for the same period is $1,000,000. Based on this information, the return on sales is 7.5%, which is calculated as follows:
($50,000 Earnings + $10,000 Interest + $15,000 Taxes) ÷ $1,000,000 Net sales
= 7.5% Return on sales
Because of the exclusions relating to finances and taxes, the result of the ratio is the proportional return on those sales generated by core operations. This information is most useful when tracked on a trend line, to determine the ability of management to earn a reasonable return on a given sales volume. A possible outcome to look for is that the return cannot be sustained as sales increase, because management is forced to look into less-profitable niches to find sales growth opportunities. This results in a gradual decline in the return on sales.
The return on sales concept can also be applied to industry analysis, to determine which companies within an industry are being most efficiently run. Those with the highest returns are likely to attract the highest buyout offers from potential acquirers.
The main concern with this measurement is that it does not factor in the effects of financial leverage, such as a large interest expense obligation, and so tends to overstate the returns being generated by a business.
The return on sales is also known as the operating margin.