Has Tesoro Become 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 Tesoro (NYSE: TSO  ) 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 Tesoro.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 10.7% Fail
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 47.8% Pass
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 5.9% Fail
  Net Margin > 15% 1.8% Fail
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 42.8% Pass
  Current Ratio > 1.3 1.28 Fail
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% 15.7% Pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 6.66 Pass
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 0% Fail
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% 0% Fail
       
  Total Score   4 out of 10

Source: S&P Capital IQ. Total score = number of passes.

Since we looked at Tesoro last year, the refiner has rebounded sharply, quadrupling its score. A return to profitability along with reductions in overall debt and faster revenue growth explain the boost.

The refining industry has gone through a lot of changes lately. Marathon Oil chose to spin off its refining operations into Marathon Petroleum (NYSE: MPC  ) , while ConocoPhillips plans to follow suit shortly. Both Conoco and Sunoco (NYSE: SUN  ) are trying to sell East Coast refineries, with Sunoco going so far as to shut down operations to conserve cash.

Yet on the West Coast, the story is different. With Western Refining (NYSE: WNR  ) and HollyFrontier (NYSE: HFC  ) closer to their sources of crude, they benefit from the boom in domestic oil production in a way that East Coast refineries can't.

In particular, Tesoro benefited from the spread between prices of West Texas Intermediate versus Brent crude. Those spreads helped improve margins and cut input costs for producing refined products. Although the WTI-Brent spread has been volatile, it remains at fairly significant levels.

For Tesoro to continue seeing improvement, it needs energy prices to keep cooperating. Higher gasoline prices are generally favorable for refiner margins, but if they get high enough to start curbing demand, they'll eventually pinch Tesoro's profits.

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 the best investments from the rest.

If you like energy stocks, we've got a stock idea that could knock your socks off. Read about it right here in The Motley Fool's special free report on the energy industry and its best prospects -- it's free but only available for a limited time, so click here today.

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

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Western Refining. 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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