How to Calculate and Use Financial Leverage


Financial leverage is a commonly used tool in the world of finance, and understanding how to calculate and use it is crucial for businesses and investors. Financial leverage, also known as leverage, allows individuals or companies to increase their potential return on investment by utilizing borrowed funds. In this article, we will explore the concept of financial leverage, its calculation, and its practical applications.

What is financial leverage?
Financial leverage is the use of borrowed funds to increase the potential return on investment. It is the practice of using debt rather than equity to finance a business or investment opportunity. By borrowing money, individuals or companies can make larger investments than what their capital allows, thus increasing the potential for profits. However, this also means a higher level of risk as the borrowed funds need to be paid back with interest regardless of the success or failure of the investment.

Calculating financial leverage
Financial leverage can be calculated using a financial ratio known as debt-to-equity ratio. This ratio measures the proportion of debt capital to equity capital in a company. To calculate the debt-to-equity ratio, divide a company’s total liabilities (debt) by its shareholder’s equity. The resulting number is a fraction that indicates the level of debt financing compared to equity financing. For example, if a company has $500,000 in debt and $1 million in equity, its debt-to-equity ratio would be 0.5.

Using financial leverage in finance
Financial leverage has its benefits and drawbacks, and its usage depends on the individual or business’s financial goals and risk appetite. Let’s explore some scenarios where financial leverage can be used in finance.

1. Leveraged buyouts (LBOs)
Leveraged buyouts are commonly used in corporate finance and involve using borrowed funds to acquire a company. This allows buyers to make a large investment with a relatively small amount of capital. LBOs can result in significant returns for the buyer if the acquired company performs well, but it also carries a high risk as the borrowed funds need to be repaid regardless of the success of the acquisition.

2. Investing in real estate
Real estate investments often involve significant amounts of debt financing. Investors can leverage their funds by taking out loans to purchase properties, thus increasing their potential profits. However, it also means taking on more risk as the property needs to generate enough income to cover the loan payments and yield a return on investment.

3. Trading on margins
Margin trading is a form of financial leverage commonly used in the stock market. It involves borrowing funds from a broker to purchase stocks, allowing investors to make larger trades than what their capital allows. While it can result in significant profits, it also carries a high level of risk as the borrowed funds need to be repaid with interest regardless of the performance of the stocks.

4. Expanding a business
Businesses, especially startups, often use financial leverage to finance their growth and expansion plans. By taking on debt, companies can make larger investments in new projects, technology, or marketing strategies, thus increasing their chances of success. However, it also means taking on more financial risk as the borrowed funds need to be paid back even if the projects do not yield the expected returns.

In conclusion, financial leverage is a powerful tool in finance that can help individuals and companies maximize their potential returns on investment. However, it also comes with its share of risks, and it is crucial to carefully consider the potential risks and rewards before using financial leverage. It is recommended to seek professional financial advice before making any leveraged investments to ensure they align with your financial goals and risk tolerance.