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 Quicksilver Resources (NYSE: KWK ) 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 a 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 Quicksilver Resources.
What We Want to See
Pass or Fail?
|Growth||5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15%||16.3%||Pass|
|1-Year Revenue Growth > 12%||(6.2%)||Fail|
|Margins||Gross Margin > 35%||55.3%||Pass|
|Net Margin > 15%||11.7%||Fail|
|Balance Sheet||Debt to Equity < 50%||158.2%||Fail|
|Current Ratio > 1.3||1.28||Fail|
|Opportunities||Return on Equity > 15%||9.0%||Pass|
|Valuation||Normalized P/E < 20||NM||NM|
|Dividends||Current Yield > 2%||0.0%||Fail|
|5-Year Dividend Growth > 10%||0.0%||Fail|
|Total Score||2 out of 9|
Source: S&P Capital IQ. NM = not meaningful due to negative normalized earnings. Total score = number of passes.
Since we looked at Quicksilver Resources last year, the company's score has dropped by three points. Much weaker figures due to asset write-downs explain much of the drop, but falling revenue is also a bad sign and has definitely contributed to the stock's roughly 65% plunge in the past year.
Natural gas has been a terrible place to invest recently. With prices having set decade-long lows earlier this year, even cost-effective producers Ultra Petroleum (NYSE: UPL ) and Southwestern Energy (NYSE: SWN ) have felt the pinch.
But, more recently, gas prices have finally started rising, moving above the $3 level in recent sessions. That's reawakened interest not only in gas-price ETF United States Natural Gas (NYSE: UNG ) , but also in Quicksilver, whose shares have jumped more than 50% off their lows from last month.
Still, Quicksilver faces challenges. Standard & Poor's downgraded the company's corporate credit rating to B-, deep in the junk category, and its senior unsecured debt to CCC+. The downgrade will make it more costly for Quicksilver to get additional credit, or refinance existing debt when it matures.
In the long run, though, what Quicksilver needs, in order to improve, is a more favorable market for natural gas. If prices continue to rise, they could save Quicksilver's future prospects. But if they stay low, Quicksilver could become a casualty of the crowded space.
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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