Margins matter. The more Health Net
Here's the current margin snapshot for Health Net over the trailing 12 months: Gross margin is 14.2%, while operating margin is 2.4% and net margin is 1.4%.
Unfortunately, a look at the most recent numbers doesn't tell us much about where Health Net 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 (LFQ). 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 Health Net 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 15.9% and averaged 13.8%. Operating margin peaked at 4.9% and averaged 2.8%. Net margin peaked at 1.5% and averaged 0.8%.
- TTM gross margin is 14.2%, 40 basis points better than the five-year average. TTM operating margin is 2.4%, 40 basis points worse than the five-year average. TTM net margin is 1.4%, 60 basis points better than the five-year average.
With recent TTM operating margins below historical averages, Health Net has some work to do.
Over the decades, small-cap stocks, like Health Net have provided market-beating returns, provided they're value priced and have solid businesses. Read about a pair of companies with a lock on their markets in "Too Small to Fail: Two Small Caps the Government Won't Let Go Broke." Click here for instant access to this free report.
- Add Health Net to My Watchlist.
Seth Jayson had no position in any company mentioned here at the time of publication. You can view his stock holdings here. He is co-advisor of Motley Fool Hidden Gems, which provides new small-cap ideas every month, backed by a real-money portfolio. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.