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What is Leverage in the Financial Market? Types & Case Studies

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In today’s competitive business world, the main goal of any investor is to maximize profit, and financial leverage plays a key role in achieving that. In this blog, we will discover how financial leverage is key to success, what types of leverage exist, the advantages and disadvantages of leverage, some interesting case studies, and how we make a profit from it.

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What is Leverage in the Financial Market?

Leverage refers to the practice of using borrowed funds, typically from banks or investors, to magnify the impact of one’s investments. It allows individuals or companies to control a more substantial asset base than they could with their own capital alone, with the aim of potentially increasing returns. 

However, it’s important to note that leverage also escalates the risk, as losses can exceed the initially invested amount. It’s a financial strategy that requires careful management and consideration of both potential gains and potential losses.

For example: Imagine you want to start a business in India. You have saved ₹1,00,000, but you need ₹10,00,000 to get it off the ground. With leverage, you can borrow ₹9,00,000 from a bank or investors, and now you have the ₹10,00,000 you need. If your business does well and makes a profit, you get to keep the full amount. But if things don’t go as planned and you incur losses, you’ll still need to repay the ₹9,00,000 you borrowed. Leverage can boost your gains, but it also heightens the risk, much like a financial magnifying glass. Thus, think strategically and follow the updated financial news to manage profits. It’s a powerful tool, but it needs careful handling in the Indian financial landscape.

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How Does Leverage Work “In Financial Market”?

If a particular business demonstrates potential for future growth, whether it aims to scale operations, enter new markets, or enhance existing products, it will require funding. Moreover, if a business doesn’t have the required funds or cash upfront, the business will have to borrow funds. 

In the financial market, leverage acts like a financial accelerator. It allows business companies to achieve more with less, magnifying their potential gains. But like a double-edged sword, it also heightens the risk, making it essential for investors and companies to understand how to wield it wisely. Let’s explore the mechanics of leverage and its impact on financial markets.

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Investment Vs. Leverage

In finance, we have two main choices: investing and leveraging. Investing means using your own money to buy assets while leveraging involves using borrowed funds to aim for higher returns. 

Let’s compare these two approaches to see which one suits your financial goals.

AspectInvestmentLeverage
ConceptLike planting seeds – putting money in the hope of future growth.It is like using a magnifying glass to amplify growth, but with a higher risk.
Use of FundsUse your own money to buy assets (e.g., stocks, real estate).Borrow money to invest more than you have.
RiskModerate risk – potential gains and losses are typically proportional.Higher risk – gains and losses are magnified, and can exceed the invested amount.
ControlYou have full control over your investments.You have to repay borrowed funds, potentially limiting control.
ReturnsPotential for steady, proportional returns.Potential for faster, amplified returns, but also larger potential losses.
A long-term StrategyOften considered a safer long-term strategy.Often used for short-term gains or specific opportunities.
SuitabilitySuitable for risk-averse investors.Suitable for those comfortable with higher risk and short-term goals.

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Types of Leverage and How to Calculate Leverages

There are three main types of Leverage:

  • Financial Leverage
  • Operating Leverage
  • Combined Leverage 

Further, we will explain in more detail. 

Types of Leverage

Financial Leverage

Financial leverage means how much money a business or investor borrows to try and make more money from their investments. They use things like loans or bonds to buy assets or invest in projects, hoping to make more money than they have to pay back in interest.

Financial leverage is like a financial booster shot. It’s when companies borrow money to make more money. By using loans or debts, they aim to boost their profits. But here’s the catch while it can make profits soar, it can also make losses bigger. It’s a balancing act in the finance world.

How to Calculate Financial Leverage

We can determine the financial leverage of a business through the debt-to-equity ratio. This ratio represents how much debt a company has compared to its equity. Thus, a higher debt-to-equity ratio may lead to high risk and be more potentially profitable, while a lower debt-to-equity ratio may lead to low risk but at the expense of lower risk.

                         Financial Leverage Ratio   =    Total debt / total equity 

Note: 

  • If the financial leverage ratio of 1 represents no leverage. 

Operating Leverage

The term “Operating leverage” refers to measuring the relationship between a company’s operating income or profit (i.e., earnings before interest and taxes) and the company’s sales revenue. In simpler terms, it measures how sensitive a company’s profit is to changes in sales volume.

Operating leverage is like a financial seesaw. It’s when companies boost their profits by spreading their fixed costs over more units of a product or service. In simple terms, they make more money without spending much more. It’s a smart strategy to increase profitability, but it can also magnify losses if things don’t go as planned.

How to Calculate Operating Leverage  

Here is the following method to calculate the operating leverage:

We can determine operating leverage by finding the ratio of total growth percentage and total revenue percentage.

                Operating Leverage = total growth percentage / total revenue percentage

A ratio greater than 1 indicates that a company has high operating leverage, while a ratio less than 1 suggests low operating leverage.

Combined Leverage

As the name suggests, “combined leverage” refers to the use of both financial leverage and operating leverage to maximize the potential return on investments. An investor or business uses combined leverage for the effective growth of their investment or projects that have potential.

Combined leverage is like teamwork for profits. It’s when companies use two strategies together: borrowing money (financial leverage) and optimizing their costs (operating leverage). This combination can turbocharge their earnings. But, like teamwork, it works best when everyone plays their part, and it can be tricky to balance.

How to Calculate Combined Leverage

We can determine combined leverage by adding operating leverage and financial leverage. Formula to find combined leverage:

               Combined Leverage = Operating Leverage + Financial Leverage

Combined leverage gives an overall understanding of financial risk, especially in situations where the company is highly leveraged, as it considers both operational and financial leverage. 

One of the other ways of leveraging is Leverage Buyout (LBO) means acquiring another company using borrowed money and then trying to operate the company in a way that makes enough money to pay back the debt.

Advantages of Leverage  

Advantages of Leverage

Financial leverage, when used legally, offers several advantages for individuals and businesses. Here are some advantages of financial leverage:

  • Liquid Preservation:  By using leverage, an investor or business can preserve their cash for other opportunities or unseen expenses while still in a profitable position.
  • Tax Benefits: In some cases, interest payments on borrowed funds may be tax-deductible. This can result in reduced taxable income and potentially lower tax liabilities, leading to cost savings.
  • Access to Larger Investments: Leverage allows you to control more significant assets or make larger investments than you could with your own capital alone.
  • Business Growth: For businesses, financial leverage can facilitate expansion and growth without the need for immediate equity financing. It can help companies take advantage of growth opportunities, invest in new projects, and increase their market presence.
  • Portfolio Diversification: Leverage helps an investor or a business diversify their investment portfolio more extensively. With limited capital, it may only be able to invest in a few assets, but leverage can help spread investments across a broader range of opportunities.

Disadvantages of Leverage

Disadvantages of Leverage

Despite several advantages of financial leverage, as mentioned above, there are some risks or disadvantages associated with individuals and businesses:

  • Increased Risk of Loss: Financial leverage magnifies losses just as it amplifies gains. If the investments made with borrowed funds perform poorly, you may incur significant losses, potentially exceeding your initial investment.
  • Interest Costs: Borrowed funds come with interest expenses, which must be paid regardless of the performance of the investment. If interest rates rise or the cost of borrowing increases, it can eat into profits and lead to financial strain.
  • Asset Depreciation: If you use leverage to invest in assets that depreciate or lose value over time (e.g., certain types of real estate or equipment), you could end up owing more than the assets are worth.
  • Regulatory and Compliance Risks: Using leverage, especially in a business field, may subject you to regulatory and compliance requirements that can be time-consuming and costly to fulfill.
  • Credit Risk: When an individual or business borrows money, they are exposed to credit risk. If the lender defaults or experiences financial difficulties, it can negatively impact their financial situation.

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Real-World Case Study of Financial Leverage

In our examination of financial leverage, we’ll look at a real-world example to see its benefits and drawbacks. Imagine leverage as a financial magnifier: it can make gains bigger, but it can also make losses larger. This case study highlights how people and businesses can use leverage to potentially earn more money, but it also shows how it can lead to bigger financial risks. It’s a practical lesson on how leverage can be a double-edged sword in the real world of finance.

Mastering the Art of Financial Leverage: Stories of Prosperous Players

Many established companies and individuals have used financial leverage strategically to fuel their growth and increase shareholder value. When used prudently and effectively, financial leverage can be a valuable tool for expanding operations, making strategic acquisitions, and maximizing returns on equity. Here are a few examples of well-known companies and individuals that have used financial leverage to grow:

Companies that benefit from Leverage:

Apple: Apple is known to use financial leverage, including issuing bonds, to fund share buybacks and dividend payments. By taking advantage of historically low-interest rates, Apple has effectively used debt to return capital to shareholders while preserving its cash reserves for investments in research and development and new product launches.

Microsoft Corporation: Microsoft has also employed financial leverage to fund strategic acquisitions. For instance, it used debt to acquire LinkedIn and GitHub, among other companies, to diversify its product and service offerings.

The Walt Disney Company: Disney has a history of using financial leverage to finance acquisitions and expansions. Notably, it used leverage to acquire 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets, which significantly expanded its content library and market reach.

Not only established companies but also individuals like Robert Kiyosaki:

Robert Kiyosaki, renowned author of the best-selling book “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” has harnessed the benefits of financial leverage to achieve remarkable financial success. In various interviews and through his writings, Kiyosaki has embraced financial leverage in his journey to building wealth. By strategically employing leverage in real estate investments and business ventures, he transformed his financial position. Today, his net worth stands at an impressive $100 million.

These examples illustrate that established companies with strong cash flows and creditworthiness often use financial leverage as a strategic tool to achieve various corporate objectives, such as expansion, acquisitions, and returning value to shareholders.

Leverage Drawbacks: Examining the Debt Struggles of Countries and Companies

Certainly, there have been instances where countries and established companies have faced significant challenges or even crises due to excessive financial leverage. Here are a few examples:

Greece: Greece is a significant example of a country that faced a severe financial crisis, largely attributed to high levels of government debt. The Greek government had accumulated significant debt relative to its GDP, leading to a debt crisis in 2009. It resulted in a series of bailouts and austerity measures.

Venezuela: Venezuela’s economy got worse because they borrowed too much, had problems with politics, and earned less money from oil. This caused very high prices and a big humanitarian problem.

Not only countries but also established companies like Nokia are included in the list.

Nokia, a former leader in the mobile phone industry, struggled due to its inability to adapt to the smartphone era. The company’s debt increased as its market share declined, resulting in a loss of competitiveness.

These examples show that borrowing too much money can be risky. It’s essential to manage money wisely, understand risks, and spread investments to avoid getting into trouble with too much debt.

Conclusion

Financial leverage is a powerful tool that can accelerate growth and maximize returns for both individuals and businesses. However, it carries inherent risks, as exemplified by cases of excessive debt leading to financial distress. To harness the benefits of leverage, it is crucial to strike a balance between opportunity and risk, making informed and strategic financial decisions.

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