What Is a Good Profit Margin for Stocks?

by Dennis Hartman ; Updated April 19, 2017
Profit margins are among the factors that influence stock prices.

Investors take on risk whenever they buy shares of companies, which makes it very important to carefully select which stocks to buy. One factor that investors can consider is a company's profit margin: the percentage of its total revenues that represent profit. A good profit margin tells a prospective stock buyer several things about the potential investment.

Average and Strong Profit Margins

According to Fox News, in the 30 years before 2011, the average profit margin for American corporations was about 7.1 percent. This represented strong profit margins from three decades of relative affluence and economic growth. As of 2011, some economic analysts predicted a 9.5 percent profit margin for American companies, Fox News said. These averages differentiate between stocks in companies with above-average profit margins, and those with average or below-average profit margins.

Profit Margin Meaning

A profit margin that approaches or surpasses 10 percent reveals important information about a company's performance. Profit margins show how well a company can control its costs, especially relative to other companies in the same industry. A business that maintains a high profit margin shows that it can increase its prices to cover the rising cost of labor, raw materials and other operating expenses. High profit margins also indicate that businesses can reduce their prices and still remain profitable, allowing them to respond to competition or reduced buying power from their customers.

Stock Implications

Profit margins also show trends over time, which is useful information for potential investors. A rising profit margin, for example, shows that a business is gaining more control over costs and finding success in its current strategy. A diminishing profit margin, even if it is at or above average, might indicate that a business will have trouble remaining profitable in the future. This downward trend makes a stock less appealing, and it probably will drive down share prices unless other factors support them.

Low Profit Margins

Stock in a business with a low profit margin is not necessarily a poor investment. Low profit margins can have many reasons, and other factors influence stock price as well. For example, if two competing companies in the same industry both have diminishing profit margins, the stock of the company with the margin that is shrinking most slowly might rise relative to its apparently weaker competitor.

The ability for a business to increase its stock price also depends on its strategic position and potential for growth. A new business might have a low profit margin because it is incurring startup costs each quarter, but once those costs are paid, the mature company could have a much higher profit margin, rewarding investors who bought shares when its margin was low.

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