Margins matter. The more SJW
Here's the current margin snapshot for SJW and some of its sector and industry peers and direct competitors.
TTM Gross Margin
TTM Operating Margin
TTM Net Margin
American States Water
American Water Works
California Water Service Group
Source: S&P Capital IQ. TTM = trailing 12 months.
Unfortunately, that table doesn't tell us much about where SJW has been, or where it's going. A company with rising gross and operating margins often fuels its growth by increasing demand for its products. If it sells more units while keeping costs in check, its profitability increases. Conversely, a company with gross margins that inch downward over time is often losing out to competition, and possibly engaging in a race to the bottom on prices. If it can't make up for this problem by cutting costs -- and most companies can't -- then both the business and its shares face a decidedly bleak outlook.
Of course, over the short term, the kind of economic shocks we recently experienced can drastically affect a company's profitability. That's why I like to look at five fiscal years' worth of margins, along with the results for the trailing 12 months, the last fiscal year, and last fiscal quarter. You can't always reach a hard conclusion about your company's health, but you can better understand what to expect, and what to watch.
Here's the margin picture for SJW over the past few years.
Source: S&P Capital IQ. Dollar amounts in millions. FY = fiscal year. TTM = trailing 12 months.
Because of seasonality in some businesses, the numbers for the last period on the right -- the TTM figures -- aren't always comparable to the FY results preceding them. To compare quarterly margins to their prior-year levels, consult this chart.
Source: S&P Capital IQ. Dollar amounts in millions. FQ = fiscal quarter.
Here's how the stats break down:
- Over the past five years, gross margin peaked at 58.8% and averaged 55.6%. Operating margin peaked at 24.8% and averaged 20.8%. Net margin peaked at 20.4% and averaged 11.6%.
- TTM gross margin is 59.1%, 350 basis points better than the five-year average. TTM operating margin is 19.8%, 100 basis points worse than the five-year average. TTM net margin is 9.8%, 180 basis points worse than the five-year average.
With recent TTM operating margins below historical averages, SJW has some work to do.
If you take the time to read past the headlines and crack a filing now and then, you're probably ahead of 95% of the market's individual investors. To stay ahead, learn more about how I use analysis like this to help me uncover the best returns in the stock market. Got an opinion on the margins at SJW? Let us know in the comments below.