Has News Corp. 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 News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWSA  ) 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 News Corp.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 4.1% Fail
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 5.4% Fail
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 38.4% Pass
  Net Margin > 15% 10.0% Fail
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 53.2% Fail
  Current Ratio > 1.3 2.08 Pass
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% 13.4% Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 17.11 Pass
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 0.8% Fail
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% 11.2% Pass
       
  Total Score   4 out of 10

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

Since we looked at News Corp. last year, the company has picked up a point. Some relatively impressive dividend hikes helped the media giant's score, but News Corp. has some even more ambitious plans for the future.

News Corp.'s diverse mix of businesses have faced much different environments recently. With its Fox television and cable networks, News Corp. has enjoyed the same success as Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) ABC and ESPN networks and Comcast and General Electric's (NYSE: GE  ) NBC Universal. With valuable content fetching more of a premium than ever, Fox is a juggernaut of profitability for the company.

By contrast, the publishing industry has struggled for a long time. Admittedly, the company's Wall Street Journal was much quicker to monetize its online distribution than many of its competitors. Gannett (NYSE: GCI  ) only recently joined New York Times and others in instituting pay walls for some of its content.

In order to get the full benefit of the more lucrative entertainment division, News Corp. announced just last month that it plans to split up the company into two pieces. The move will also help reduce the impact of the publishing division's phone-hacking scandal.

What's likely to come after the split is a publisher that may never prove to be a perfect stock and an entertainment company that will have a lot more potential to shine, going up against Disney, Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) , and other production companies in the movie business as well as its TV rivals. Interested investors should stay tuned to see whether and how an eventual split actually takes shape.

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.

News Corp. isn't the perfect stock, but we've got some ideas you may like better. Let me invite you to learn about three smart long-term stock plays in the Fool's latest special report. It's yours for the taking and is absolutely free, but don't miss out -- click here and read it today.

Click here to add News Corp. 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 in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Disney. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Disney. 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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