Corporate Interest Rates Thwarting Competitiveness - Really?

By: Ian Campbell | Fri, Aug 10, 2012
Print Email

Why read: To think about whether a 2.5% change in a company's borrowing rates ought to materially affect a company's competitive position. Certainly that could be the 'takeaway' from a recent article.

Commentary: Assume a manufacturing company:

The following table shows the effect of an interest rate increase of 2.5% on that hypothetical company's profitability.


  Normal Times Abnormal Times - interest rate change only Abnormal Times with 20% revenue decline but same cost structure
Revenue 10.0 10.0 8.0
Gross margin (30%) 3.0 3.0 2.4
Overheads 2.0 2.0 1.6
Pre-tax, pre-interest earnings 1.0 1.0 0.8
Interest expense on $2.0 million debt      
@5% (normal times) 0.1    
@7.5% (abnormal times)   0.15 0.15
Pre-tax profit 0.9 0.85 0.65


In essence, for an optimally financed company that does not suffer in 'abnormal times' from a decline in revenue, but experiences a 50% increase in its interest rates, that company should be able to 'weather the interest rate storm' without much difficulty. However, superimpose:

and the company's circumstances can change in a radical negative way very quickly. For example, if our hypothetical company saw its sales decline by 20% and it had a capital structure of 20% equity and 80% debt (in the example, $1 million equity and $4 million debt) the results, as set out in the following table, would be quite different.


  Normal Times Abnormal Times with 20% revenue under revised scenario
Revenue 10.0 8.0
Gross margin (30% dropping to 25%) 3.0 2.0
Overheads (20% increasing to 25%) 2.0 2.0
Pre-tax, pre-interest earnings 1.0 0.0
Interest expense on $2.0 million debt    
@5% (normal times) 0.2  
@7.5% (abnormal times)   0.3
Pre-tax profit 0.8 (0.3)


In essence, a suggestion that Italian (or any other country's) companies competitiveness is materially impacted by a 2.5% increase in interest rates may be quite correct (the referenced article at one point suggested Italian interest rates have increased by 2%). However, this typically would only be the case where a company either suffered a drop in revenue, a drop in gross margins, an increase in operating costs, or a combination of those things in circumstances where it had over-levered its balance sheet in good (or better) economic times.

Like individuals and countries, companies are vulnerable when they carry too much debt against their equity positions.

Topical Reference: Analysis: Crisis stifles Italian firms' competitiveness drive, from Reuters, Lisa Jucca, August 5, 2012 - reading time 4 minutes, thinking time longer.



Ian Campbell

Author: Ian Campbell

Ian R. Campbell, FCA, FCBV
Economic Straight Talk

Through the Economic Straight Talk Newsletter Ian R. Campbell shares his perspective on the world economy, the financial markets, and natural resources. A recognized business valuation authority, he founded Toronto based Campbell Valuation Partners (1976), Stock Research Portal (2007) a source of resource companies market data and analytic tools, and Economic Straight Talk (2012). The CICBV* annually funds business valuation research in his name**. Contact him at
* Canadian Institute of Chartered Business Valuators
** through The Ian R. Campbell Research Initiative

The full version of The Economic Straight Talk Newsletter is published each trading day. To get your Free 14-day trial subscription, visit No obligation or credit card required.

Informed Investors are Successful Investors

Comments and opinions expressed in these commentaries are those of the authors. They do not constitute individualized investment advice, are provided "as is", may change without prior notice, and are used at your own risk. The information and content provided or referenced may be incomplete, inexact, or incorrect. Your use of these commentaries is subject to the Economic Straight Talk Terms of Use and Legal Disclaimer

Copyright © 2011-2013, Stock Research DD Inc., all rights reserved

All Images, XHTML Renderings, and Source Code Copyright ©