Money Matters - Simplified

Is Capella Education Earning Enough for You?


Margins matter. The more Capella Education (Nasdaq: CPLA) keeps of each buck it earns in revenue, the more money it has to invest in growth, fund new strategic plans, or (gasp!) distribute to shareholders. Healthy margins often separate pretenders from the best stocks in the market. That's why I check on my holdings' margins at least once a quarter. I'm looking for the absolute numbers, comparisons to sector peers and competitors, and any trend that may tell me how strong Capella Education's competitive position could be.


Here's the current margin snapshot for Capella Education and some of its sector and industry peers and direct competitors.

Company

TTM Gross Margin

TTM Operating Margin

TTM Net Margin

Capella Education

61.1%

22.1%

14.3%

Apollo Group (Nasdaq: APOL)

56.9%

27.9%

11.2%

Lincoln Educational Services(Nasdaq: LINC)

62.8%

19.2%

10.9%

Corinthian Colleges (Nasdaq:COCO)

44.2%

13.0%

7.8%


Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. TTM = trailing 12 months.

Unfortunately, that table doesn't tell us much about where Capella Education 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 (TTM), 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 Capella Education over the past few years.

(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.)

Here's how the stats break down:

  • Over the past five years, gross margin peaked at 59.6% and averaged 55.4%. Operating margin peaked at 19.1% and averaged 13.4%. Net margin peaked at 12.8% and averaged 9.5%.
  • TTM gross margin is 61.1%, 570 basis points better than the five-year average. TTM operating margin is 22.1%, 870 basis points better than the five-year average. TTM net margin is 14.3%, 480 basis points better than the five-year average.

With recent TTM operating margins exceeding historical averages, Capella Education looks like it is doing fine.

© 2010 UCLICK L.L.C.