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What is Operating Income?

Operating income reflects a company's earnings from its core business, excluding expenses like interest and taxes. It's a key indicator of financial health, revealing profitability from regular operations. Understanding operating income helps investors gauge a firm's efficiency in generating profits. How does operating income impact a company's strategic decisions? Join us as we examine its role in business success.
Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Operating income is a calculation for a company of the difference between the operating revenue and the operating expenses of that company. Operating income is frequently used as a synonym for earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT), although strictly speaking EBIT includes non-operating income as well as operating income. It is an important concept both for a company to determine their own health, as well as for an investor to be able to gauge the earnings potential of a company before they invest in it.

There are two main things calculated to determine operating income at a company: the operating revenue of the company and the operating expenses. Operating revenue is any revenue that comes in through standard revenue channels, such as sales of widgets, but excludes things like interest income or dividend income. Operating expenses are the expenses incurred in the daily operations of the company, but exclude extraordinary expenses. Generally, one can look at operating revenue as the revenue from sources that recur from year to year, and operating expenses as the expenses within a class that recurs from year to year.

A company's operating revenue and operating expenses are used to determine its operating income.
A company's operating revenue and operating expenses are used to determine its operating income.

Expenses that may be left out of operating expenses, and therefore out of calculating operating income, include things like paying out to a class action suit. Since it is assumed this is a cost that will only happen once, it isn’t particularly relevant to looking at the potential earnings of subsequent years. Similarly, income that comes in from investments in other companies isn’t really a reflection of how well the business itself is doing, only of how well its investments are doing, and therefore is generally left out of the calculation of operating income.

For a concept like this, an example may be the best way to show the difference between the different calculations. We will look at a fictitious manufacturing company, which produces and sells widgets. As an investor, looking at buying equity in the company, we are interested in how well they do as a business, and so we want to know their operating income and their earnings before interest and taxes.

First, we look at their operating revenue. This is fairly straightforward, as we only have to look at how much money they have brought in from their sale of widgets around the world. This includes all of their store locations, their wholesaling operations, and their online sales. The total number is $5 billion US Dollars (USD).

Next, we look at their operating expenses. To make their widgets, they spend $2.2 billion USD, which accounts for the raw supplies, leases on their factories, their distribution network, and their employees. They spend another $1.1 billion USD on administrative costs, including their executive compensation, legal expenses, and other staff. Around $150 million USD goes to amortization and depreciation. And they spend about $50 million USD on miscellaneous other expenses that recur year to year. So all told their operating expenses are $3.5 billion USD.

That means that their total operating income is $1.5 billion USD, which we get from subtracting their operating expenses from their operating income. If they also made $150 million USD from things like gains through their foreign exchange and other non-operating income, we would calculate their total earnings before interest and taxes as $1.65 billion USD. From there we could also add in their net interest income and expenses, and the taxes they paid out, to figure out their total net income.

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Discussion Comments


Exchange differences are not mentioned in a lot of EBIT discussions. Should this be part of expenses BEFORE EBIT or should this be treated the same as interest income/expenses? Think also about fx differences on operations and on investments.


Catapult – That maybe true but a company that exhibits high expenses will have negative operating income and that is a factor in determining how healthy a company is.

If a company has negative operating income that means that they are spending more than they are bringing in. This would be a company that is mismanaged and as a potential investor I would not want to buy a corporate bond or a stock from a company like that.

I think that operating income is an important area because you can see how the company is managing its finances.


Operating income does not really sound to me like very reliable number for rating a company's health. Sure, there might be things that are one time expenses and shouldn't be counted, but my guess is that there will be some of those every single year, and a number which takes these occurrences into account is probably much better for determining the health of a business.

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    • A company's operating revenue and operating expenses are used to determine its operating income.
      By: hramovnick
      A company's operating revenue and operating expenses are used to determine its operating income.