The Zero Profit Condition

by Electra Radioti
zero profit condition

The zero profit condition, often discussed in microeconomics and industrial organization, refers to a situation where firms in a competitive market earn just enough revenue to cover their total costs, including both fixed and variable costs, but do not earn any economic profit. Here are some key points regarding this condition:

  1. Perfect Competition: The zero profit condition typically arises in a perfectly competitive market in the long run. In such a market, there are many firms producing identical products, and no single firm can influence the market price.
  2. Entry and Exit: In the long run, firms can freely enter and exit the market. If firms are earning economic profits, new firms will enter the market, increasing supply and driving down prices until profits are zero. Conversely, if firms are incurring losses, some will exit the market, reducing supply and driving up prices until remaining firms break even.
  3. Normal Profit: When firms are making zero economic profit, they are still earning a normal profit. Normal profit is the minimum amount of earnings needed to keep a firm in business in the long run and is considered a part of the firm’s opportunity costs.
  4. Equilibrium: The zero profit condition represents a long-run equilibrium for perfectly competitive markets. At this point, the price of the product equals the average total cost (ATC) of production.

Mathematical Representation

In a perfectly competitive market, the zero profit condition can be represented as:

\[ P = ATC \]


  • \( P \) is the market price.
  • \( ATC \) is the average total cost of production.


  • Efficient Allocation of Resources: The zero profit condition ensures that resources are allocated efficiently. Firms are producing at the lowest possible cost, and consumers are paying a price that reflects the true cost of production.
  • Consumer Benefits: Consumers benefit from lower prices and a variety of choices, as firms strive to minimize costs and innovate to stay competitive.
  • Dynamic Market: The condition encourages a dynamic market where inefficient firms exit, and new, more efficient firms enter, fostering continuous improvement and innovation.


  • Agricultural Markets: Many agricultural products, such as wheat or corn, often operate in near-perfectly competitive markets where farmers break even in the long run.
  • Commodity Markets: Markets for basic commodities like metals and raw materials often approach the zero profit condition in the long run.

Understanding the zero profit condition helps in analyzing how competitive markets function and the effects of various economic policies on market outcomes.

Firms choose to stay in a market even under the zero profit condition for several reasons:

  1. Normal Profit: While firms are making zero economic profit, they are still earning normal profit. Normal profit is the minimum earnings necessary to keep the firm in business, compensating the owners for their opportunity costs (the returns they could have earned elsewhere with the same resources).
  2. Covering Opportunity Costs: Firms are covering all their explicit and implicit costs. Implicit costs include the opportunity costs of the resources owned by the firm. If these costs are covered, the firm’s owners have no better alternative use for their resources, making it rational to continue operating.
  3. Future Profit Potential: Market conditions are dynamic, and firms may anticipate future profits due to expected changes in demand, cost reductions, or innovations. Firms may endure a zero-profit situation temporarily, expecting better conditions ahead.
  4. Non-Monetary Benefits: Business owners and managers may derive satisfaction from other aspects of running a business, such as personal fulfillment, pride, and maintaining family traditions. These non-monetary benefits can be significant motivations for staying in business.
  5. Market Position and Brand Value: Firms may value their established market position, customer base, and brand reputation. Staying in the market allows them to retain these intangible assets, which could be leveraged for future profitability.
  6. Avoiding Exit Costs: Exiting a market can involve significant costs, such as selling off assets at a loss, paying severance to employees, or losing sunk costs in specialized equipment and facilities. These exit barriers can make staying in business more appealing than leaving the market.
  7. Economies of Scale and Learning Curves: Firms that continue operating may achieve economies of scale or move down the learning curve, reducing their costs over time and potentially becoming profitable again. Experience and efficiency improvements can lead to lower average costs.
  8. Market Dynamics and Competitor Exit: In a competitive market, some firms may exit due to sustained losses, reducing overall supply and potentially increasing prices. Remaining firms can benefit from this market contraction, leading to improved profitability in the long run.


Firms stay in business under the zero profit condition because they are still covering their opportunity costs and normal profit, they anticipate future profitability, they derive non-monetary satisfaction, and they want to avoid the costs associated with exiting the market. Additionally, maintaining market position and leveraging economies of scale or learning curves can provide strategic advantages that justify continued operation even when economic profits are zero.

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