Is A123 Systems the Perfect Stock?

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 A123 Systems (Nasdaq: AONE  ) 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 A123 Systems.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-year annual revenue growth > 15% 28.1% Pass
  1-year revenue growth > 12% 10% Fail
Margins Gross margin > 35% (43%) Fail
  Net margin > 15% (189.5%) Fail
Balance sheet Debt to equity < 50% 42.4% Pass
  Current ratio > 1.3 3.69 Pass
Opportunities Return on equity > 15% (44.5%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 NM NM
Dividends Current yield > 2% 0% Fail
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 0% Fail
       
  Total Score   3 out of 9

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. NM = not meaningful because of negative earnings. Total score = number of passes.

With only three points, A123 isn't powering up a strong score. But the company has just seen what could eventually prove to be a game-changing deal in the auto industry.

A123 is one of several companies moving battery technology forward, with applications including electric vehicles and alternative energy storage. Like Ener1 and Valence Technology (Nasdaq: VLNC  ) , the industry has taken a bit of a breather from its strong growth in recent years as companies wait for big manufacturers to make their moves.

The catalyst for a move may come from a current government proposal to require fleet averages to rise above 56 miles per gallon by 2025. Although car makers such as Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) and Ford (NYSE: F  ) might be able to get there based on conventional engines, the rise of Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA  ) suggests that electric vehicles could also play a big role in reaching new heights of fuel efficiency.

Late last week, A123 announced it signed a contract with General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) to provide its nanophosphate lithium-ion batteries for future electric vehicles. You won't find them in the current Volt offering, but if the future for cars is electric, then A123 may just have won the pole position going forward.

A123's past numbers don't look very energized. But if the GM deal opens the floodgates to more offers, then the future could look very bright for A123.

Keep searching
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.

Click here to add A123 Systems to My Watchlist, which can find all of our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.

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.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Ford and General Motors. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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