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A Comparison of Profitability Measurements Between R&D-intensive and Non-R&D-intensive Industries

March 2019  |  Nam D. Pham, Ph.D., Mary Donovan, and Bonnie Pierce

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When comparing across industries, a profitability assessment based solely on net profit margin is inappropriate. A meaningful assessment of the financial performance of companies and industries requires additional financial measurements, such as adjusted ROE which brings the value of intangible assets created by R&D into the equation. This paper explores the difference in performance for R&D- and non-R&D-intensive industries across GAAP financial measurements, adjusting for R&D expenditures.  We find that claims that R&D-intensive industries, such as biopharmaceuticals, are excessively profitable are not borne out by the evidence.