To me, capital growth and dividend income are equally important. Together, they provide the total return from any share investment and, as you might expect, my aim is to invest in companies that can beat the total return delivered by the wider market.

To put that aim into perspective, the FTSE 100 (UKX) has provided investors with a total return of around 3% per annum since January 2008.

Quality and value
If my investments are to outperform, I need to back companies that score well on several quality indicators and buy at prices that offer decent value.

So this series aims to identify appealing FTSE 100 investment opportunities and today I'm looking at John Wood Group (LSE:WG), which is an international energy services company providing the oil and gas and power generation industries with engineering design, production support and industrial gas turbine services.

With the shares at 791 pence, Wood's market cap is £2,920 million.

This table summarizes the firm's recent financial record:

Year to December












Net Cash From Operations






Adjusted Earnings per Share






Dividend per Share






Wood Group employs more than 41,000 people in around 50 countries to provide services for the oil and gas and power generation markets. That involves engineering, procurement, and construction management, facility operations and maintenance, and repair and overhaul of turbines and other high-speed rotating equipment.

The firm's participation in up-and-coming markets, like renewables and the shale regions, is encouraging. Coupled with the recent positive outlook, I think that bodes well for the prospects of the company's total return, going forward.

Wood Group's total return potential
Let's examine five indicators to help judge the quality of the company's total-return potential:

  1. Dividend cover: adjusted earnings covered the 2011 dividend over four times. 5/5
  2. Borrowings: net gearing was around 5% at the last count. 4/5
  3. Growth: revenue and earnings have been lumpy; cash flow has been declining. 2/5
  4. Price to earnings: a forward 13 compares well to growth and yield forecasts. 5/5
  5. Outlook: good recent trading and a positive outlook. 5/5

Overall, I score Wood Group 21 out of 25, which encourages me to believe the firm has potential to outpace the wider market's total return, going forward.

Foolish summary
Although cash flow has been trending down, adjusted earnings cover the dividend well, and the outlook is promising. Wood's services are in demand in hot energy business areas around the world and, taken with the seemingly undemanding valuation that the shares place on the company, I think that, yes, I should invest in Wood Group.

If we want to achieve superior investment returns as investors, it makes sense that we should seek out superior investment opportunities. Keeping a keen focus on a company's ability to deliver a superior total return is one way of doing that. Indeed, step four in the Motley Fool's report "10 Steps to Making a Million in the Market" asserts that shares beat funds and I think that is good advice, particularly if you are targeting superior total returns. In fact, I recommend the report for any ambitious investor. Click here to download it while it is still free and you can find out the other nine steps recommended that could transform your wealth.


Kevin Godbold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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 Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.