I find this totally fascinating, though not completely unexpected. When a random sample of American adults were asked the question “Just a rough guess, what percent profit on each dollar of sales do you think the average company makes after taxes?” for the Reason-Rupe poll in May 2013, the average response was 36%! That response was very close to historical results from the polling organization ORC’s polls for a slightly different, but related question: What percent profit on each dollar of sales do you think the average manufacturer makes after taxes? Responses to that question in 9 different polls between 1971 and 1987 ranged from 28% to 37% and averaged 31.6%.
How do the public’s estimates of corporate profit margins compare to reality? Not surprisingly they are off by a huge margin. According to this Yahoo!Finance database for 212 different industries, the average profit margin for the most recent quarter was 7.5% and the median profit margin was 6.5% (see chart above). Interestingly, there wasn’t a single industry out of 212 that had a profit margin as high as 36% in the most recent quarter. The industry “REIT-Diversified” had the highest profit margin at 33.5% followed by just one other industry – Wireless Communications at 30.9% – with a profit margin higher than 30%.
“Big Oil” companies (Major Integrated Oil and Gas) make a lot of profits, right? Well, that industry had a below-average profit margin of 5.1% in the most recent quarter. And evil Walmart only made a 3.1% profit margin in the most recent quarter (as Ireported recently), which is less than half of the almost 7% average government take on retails sales in the form of state and local sales taxes. Think about it – for every $100 in sales for Walmart, the state/local governments get an average of $6.88 in sales taxes (and as much $9.44 in Tennessee and $9.16 in Arizona, see data here), while Walmart gets only $3.10 in profits!