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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 Leggett & Platt (NYSE: LEG ) 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 areas, which 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 Leggett & Platt.
What We Want to See
Pass or Fail?
|Growth||5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15%||(4.6%)||Fail|
|1-Year Revenue Growth > 12%||10%||Fail|
|Margins||Gross Margin > 35%||19.5%||Fail|
|Net Margin > 15%||5.3%||Fail|
|Balance Sheet||Debt to Equity < 50%||50.1%||Fail|
|Current Ratio > 1.3||2.33||Pass|
|Opportunities||Return on Equity > 15%||11.8%||Fail|
|Valuation||Normalized P/E < 20||22.37||Fail|
|Dividends||Current Yield > 2%||4.6%||Pass|
|5-Year Dividend Growth > 10%||11%||Pass|
|Total Score||3 out of 10|
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's. Total score = number of passes.
Leggett & Platt comes up with only three points, far below perfection. Despite sporting an impressive dividend history, the company hasn't seen much growth in revenue lately.
Leggett makes furniture components that go into both residential and commercial furnishings. The end products don't carry the L&P brand, but companies like Sealy (NYSE: ZZ ) use its components to manufacture their products.
Unfortunately, with the housing bust, many furniture-related companies have felt the pinch of the slow economy. But several have started to come back. Select Comfort (Nasdaq: SCSS ) has reported two straight strong quarters of earnings, and Tempur-Pedic (NYSE: TPX ) has seen margins expand and profit improve even faster than analysts expected.
What truly sets Leggett apart is its dividend. With a 39-year history of increasing dividends, Leggett has been on the coveted Dividend Aristocrats list for some time. And those increases have been substantial, putting Leggett in the top-yielding elite of the S&P 500.
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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