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Everyone would love to find the perfect stock. But will you ever really find a stock that gives you everything you could possibly want?
One thing's for sure: If you don't look, you'll never find truly great investments. So let's first take a look at what you'd want to see from a perfect stock, and then decide if Sequenom (NYSE: SQNM ) fits the bill.
The quest for perfection
When you're looking for great stocks, you have to do your due diligence. It's not enough to rely on a single measure, because a stock that looks great based on one factor may turn out to be horrible in other ways. The best stocks, however, excel in many different areas, which all come together to make up a very attractive picture.
Some of the most basic yet important things to look for in a stock are:
- Growth. Expanding businesses show healthy revenue growth. While past growth is no guarantee that revenue will keep rising, it's certainly a better sign than a stagnant top line.
- Margins. Higher sales don't mean anything if a company can't turn them into profits. Strong margins ensure a company is able to turn revenue into profit.
- Balance sheet. Debt-laden companies have banks and bondholders competing with shareholders for management's attention. Companies with strong balance sheets don't have to worry about the distraction of debt.
- Money-making opportunities. Companies need to be able to turn their resources into profitable business opportunities. Return on equity helps measure how well a company is finding those opportunities.
- Valuation. You can't afford to pay too much for even the best companies. Earnings multiples are simple, but using normalized figures gives you a sense of how valuation fits into a longer-term context.
- Dividends. Investors are demanding tangible proof of profits, and there's nothing more tangible than getting a check every three months. Companies with solid dividends and strong commitments to increasing payouts treat shareholders well.
With those factors in mind, let's take a closer look at Sequenom.
What We Want to See
Pass or Fail?
|Growth||5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15%||16.1%||pass|
|1-Year Revenue Growth > 12%||13.4%||pass|
|Margins||Gross Margin > 35%||56.9%||pass|
|Net Margin > 15%||(263.5%)||fail|
|Balance Sheet||Debt to Equity < 50%||7.7%||pass|
|Current Ratio > 1.3||1.15||fail|
|Opportunities||Return on Equity > 15%||(222.9%)||fail|
|Valuation||Normalized P/E < 20||NM||fail|
|Dividends||Current Yield > 2%||0.0%||fail|
|5-Year Dividend Growth > 10%||0.0%||fail|
|Total Score||4 out of 10|
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's. NM = not meaningful; Sequenom had negative earnings during the period. Total score = number of passes.
With just four points, Sequenom falls short of being a perfect stock. The company has some promising technology in its pipeline, but -- as with many small stocks in the biotech industry -- whether it will turn into blockbuster moneymakers is speculative.
Sequenom sells sophisticated medical equipment such as mass spectronomy systems, but its real promise lies in the diagnostic tests it's working on. The company has released a couple of products that test for RHD status and problematic conditions that can cause cystic fibrosis. The product that has shareholders salivating, though, is its test for Down syndrome, which is still in development.
Two years ago, things looked bright for the Down test's prospects. But then the company announced that promising study results were affected by one slight detail: An executive in Sequenom's R&D department told researchers whether subjects actually had Down syndrome before they analyzed the test results. That sent shares plummeting and hurt Sequenom's credibility, despite the fact that the company plans to validate the test in new blind trials.
Personalized medicine is a hot area that has attracted the attention of bigger players in the industry. With some drugs targeted to work only on patients who have certain genetic characteristics, Genzyme (Nasdaq: GENZ ) , LabCorp (NYSE: LH ) , and Exact Sciences (Nasdaq: EXAS ) all stand to benefit by providing the tests that detect those characteristics.
Whether Sequenom ends up a winner remains to be seen. Although its past history falls short of perfection, speculators may want to bet on things looking up in the company's future.
No stock is a sure thing, but some stocks are a lot closer to perfect than others. By looking for the perfect stock, you'll go a long way toward improving your investing prowess and learning how to separate out the best investments from the rest.
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