Every investor would love to stumble upon the perfect stock. But will you ever really find a stock that provides everything you could possibly want?
One thing's for sure: You'll never discover truly great investments unless you actively look for them. Let's discuss the ideal qualities of a perfect stock, then decide if Weyerhaeuser (NYSE: WY ) fits the bill.
The quest for perfection
Stocks that look great based on one factor may prove horrible elsewhere, making due diligence a crucial part of your investing research. The best stocks excel in many different areas, including these important factors:
- 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 mean nothing if a company can't produce profits from them. Strong margins ensure that company can turn revenue into profit.
- Balance sheet. At debt-laden companies, banks and bondholders compete with shareholders for management's attention. Companies with strong balance sheets don't have to worry about the distraction of debt.
- Money-making opportunities. Return on equity helps measure how well a company is finding opportunities to turn its resources into profitable business endeavors.
- Valuation. You can't afford to pay too much for even the best companies. By using normalized figures, you can see how a stock's simple earnings multiple fits into a longer-term context.
- Dividends. For tangible proof of profits, a check to shareholders every three months can't be beat. 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 Weyerhaeuser.
What We Want to See
Pass or Fail?
|Growth||5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15%||(20.5%)||Fail|
|1-Year Revenue Growth > 12%||18.3%||Pass|
|Margins||Gross Margin > 35%||18.3%||Fail|
|Net Margin > 15%||20.9%||Pass|
|Balance Sheet||Debt to Equity < 50%||107.5%||Fail|
|Current Ratio > 1.3||4.11||Pass|
|Opportunities||Return on Equity > 15%||32%||Pass|
|Valuation||Normalized P/E < 20||78.65||Fail|
|Dividends||Current Yield > 2%||2.7%||Pass|
|5-Year Dividend Growth > 10%||(31.6%)||Fail|
|Total Score||5 out of 10|
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Total score = number of passes.
With a score of five, Weyerhaeuser gives investors a mixed bag. The company underwent a big transformation last year, and after a tough time, its industry may well be looking up.
Weyerhaeuser is one of the few large U.S. forest products companies. With the upswing in commodities, interest in timberland -- an asset that produces dependable recurring income yet has low correlations to stocks and other popular asset classes -- has risen substantially. Earlier this year, hedge fund manager GMO said that it believes timber will outperform the other 11 major asset classes it tracks.
Unfortunately for investors, real estate investment trusts that own timberland don't necessarily track the price of timber. Weyerhaeuser transformed itself from an operating company to a REIT last year in order to reap the attendant tax benefits, joining Plum Creek Timber (NYSE: PCL ) , Potlatch (NYSE: PCH ) , and Rayonier (NYSE: RYN ) .
Yet Weyerhaeuser's operating business may be of more interest than merely its land holdings. Last month, International Paper (NYSE: IP ) made an unsolicited buyout offer for Temple-Inland (NYSE: TIN ) , a wood and paper products company that has similarly considered REIT status.
Nevertheless, even in the timber REIT space, Weyerhaeuser doesn't look like the best bet. Plum Creek, Potlatch, and Rayonier all have more attractive dividend yields at more attractive valuations. Until investors bid shares back in line with its competitors, Weyerhaeuser will have trouble becoming a perfect stock.
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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Finding the perfect stock is only one piece of a successful investment strategy. Get the big picture by taking a look at our "13 Steps to Investing Foolishly."