Money Matters - Simplified

One Reason Rockwell Collins Looks Like a Sell

Margins matter. The more Rockwell Collins (NYSE: COL) 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 with sector peers and competitors, and any trend that may tell me how strong Rockwell Collins' competitive position could be.

 

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

Company

TTM Gross Margin

TTM Operating Margin

TTM Net Margin

Rockwell Collins 27.6% 17.3% 12.0%
Precision Castparts (NYSE: PCP) 31.3% 24.7% 16.6%
Honeywell International (NYSE: HON) 23.8% 9.8% 6.3%
Boeing (NYSE: BA) 19.4% 8.1% 5.2%

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

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 the 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 Rockwell Collins over the past few years.


 

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. 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.)

Here's how the stats break down:

  • Over the past five years, gross margin peaked at 30.1% and averaged 29.3%. Operating margin peaked at 19.9% and averaged 18.7%. Net margin peaked at 14.2% and averaged 13.0%.
  • TTM gross margin is 27.6%, 170 basis points worse than the five-year average. TTM operating margin is 17.3%, 140 basis points worse than the five-year average. TTM net margin is 12.0%, 100 basis points worse than the five-year average.

With recent TTM operating margins below historical averages, Rockwell Collins has some work to do.

 

© 2010 UCLICK L.L.C.