Capital Intensive

Updated on April 11, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byWallstreetmojo Team
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Capital Intensive Definition

Capital intensive refers to those industries or companies that require large upfront capital investmentsCapital InvestmentsCapital Investment refers to any investments made into the business with the objective of enhancing the operations. It could be long term acquisition by the business such as real estates, machinery, industries, more in machinery, plant & equipment to produce goods or services in high volumes and maintain higher levels of profit margins and return on investments. Capital intensive companies have a higher proportion of fixed assets than the total assetsTotal AssetsTotal Assets is the sum of a company's current and noncurrent assets. Total assets also equals to the sum of total liabilities and total shareholder funds. Total Assets = Liabilities + Shareholder Equityread more. Capital intensive industries examples include oil & gas, automobiles, manufacturing firms, real estate, metals & mining.


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Example of High Capital Intensive Industries

Imagine you are a utility provider and want to set up a plant that provides electricity to southern California. First, the company has to build coal, nuclear, or wind power stations. After which, they set up a transmission sector and then a billing and retail sector. For doing all these, the upfront costs will, in general, be billions of dollars – which are recorded as assets on the company’s balance sheet. For example, PG&E, the electric provider under strict scrutiny for recent California fires, has a total asset value of $89 billion. More than $65 billion is for different plant property and equipmentPlant Property And EquipmentProperty plant and equipment (PP&E) refers to the fixed tangible assets used in business operations by the company for an extended period or many years. Such non-current assets are not purchased frequently, neither these are readily convertible into cash. read more types. It means PG&E has spent a lot to set up its plants and uses only a fraction of it as working capitalWorking CapitalWorking capital is the amount available to a company for day-to-day expenses. It's a measure of a company's liquidity, efficiency, and financial health, and it's calculated using a simple formula: "current assets (accounts receivables, cash, inventories of unfinished goods and raw materials) MINUS current liabilities (accounts payable, debt due in one year)"read more. Now, let us look at a low capital-intensive company.

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Example of Low Capital Intensive Industries

Imagine you are a software provider. You create software products and sell them off for a profit. In this case, there are no direct upfront costs. You hire several engineers, and the only upfront costs will be their salaries. At the same point, look at the asset size of Facebook. The total asset value of Facebook (the plant property and equipment) is just over $100 billion. However, Facebook is worth over $400 billion. The reason is that Facebook is not a capital intensive company. Its nature lies in the asset’s delicate nature and the company’s ability to grow.

Advantages of Capital-Intensive Industries

The following are some advantages of capital intensive companies.

Disadvantages of Capital Intensive Projects

The following are some disadvantages of capital intensive projects.

  • Facebook had multiple iterations before it released its first version of the world. It is because all the incremental improvements were easy – because the project was not capital intensive. The risk of loss is low in capital-intensive projects, but the quantum of possible losses is extremely high.
  • If the company goes on fire sale, the losses will be high. A fire sale is when the company requires money for working capital and sells off the assets. As the company sets itself up for a fire sale, its assets lose value so fast that only 30%-35% of it will be realized.
  • The company cannot pivot easily. Most companies experiment with the nature of their products. Netflix shifted from a CD-based business to a streaming service in a year. Whereas GE, an extremely capital-intensive company, took over 15 years to change its direction. Spending money on projects anchors you over in that domain and makes movement difficult.
  • The competition will be strong. We argued that heavy capital companies are safe from competition because of their high barriers. However, if there is a competition, the competition will be quite strong—the example of Boeing vs. Airbus is great. Until they were the only players, they had market dominance and controlled the prices. However, when the Brazilian government helped the barrier in becoming one of the major airplane manufacturers by subsidizing them, it took a huge chunk of market share because of cheaper planes. It explains how, even though capital intensive companies are safe and the probability of competition is low, the possible losses are high once competition comes in once competition comes in.


Multiple reasons and decisions go into whether the company should be capital intensive. There are businesses where initial high capital is not a choice (utilities, power, automobiles), and there are businesses where high capital intensive nature is a choice (streaming, software, etc.). Looking at the current companies, the power they hold, and their ability to keep the market share, one can decide how capital intensive his company or project should be.

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This article is a guide to what Capital Intensive is and its definition. Here, we discuss the example of the high capital intensive industries along with their advantages and disadvantages. You can learn more about accounting from the following articles: –

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