Should You Sell General Dynamics Today?

Should you sell General Dynamics (NYSE: GD  ) today?

The decision to sell a stock you've researched and followed for months or years is never easy. If you fall in love with your stock holdings, you risk becoming vulnerable to confirmation bias -- listening only to information that supports your theories, and rejecting any contradictions.

In 2004, longtime Fool Bill Mann called confirmation bias one of the most dangerous components of investing. This warning has helped my own personal investing throughout the Great Recession. Now, I want to help you identify potential sell signs on popular stocks within our 4-million-strong Fool.com community.

Today, I'm laser-focused on General Dynamics, ready to evaluate its price, valuation, margins, and liquidity. Let's get started!

Don't sell on price
Over the past 12 months, General Dynamics has risen 0.6% versus an S&P 500 return of 11.3%. Investors in General Dynamics are no doubt disappointed with their returns, but is now the time to cut and run? Not necessarily. Short-term underperformance alone is not a sell sign. The market may be missing the critical element of your General Dynamics investing thesis. For historical context, let's compare the company's recent price with its 52-week and five-year highs. I've also included a few other businesses in the same or related industries:

Company

Recent Price

52-Week High

5-Year High

General Dynamics $66.31 $79.00 $95.10
United Technologies (NYSE: UTX  ) $74.80 $77.09 $82.50
Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) $64.36 $76.00 $107.80
Honeywell International (NYSE: HON  ) $49.93 $50.44 $63.00

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

As you can see, General Dynamics is down from its 52-week high. If you bought near the peak, now's the time to think back to why you bought it in the first place. If your reasons still hold true, you shouldn't sell based on this information alone.

Potential sell signs
First up, we'll get a rough idea of General Dynamics' valuation. I'm comparing General Dynamics' recent P/E ratio of 10.2 with where it has been over the past five years.

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

General Dynamics' P/E is lower than its five-year average, which could indicate the stock is undervalued. A low P/E isn't always a good sign, since the market may be lowering its valuation of the company because of less attractive growth prospects. It does indicate that, on a purely historical basis, General Dynamics looks cheap.

Now, let's look at the gross margins trend, which represents the amount of profit a company makes for each $1 in sales, after deducting all costs directly related to that sale. A deteriorating gross margin over time can indicate that competition has forced the company to lower prices, that it can't control costs, or that its whole industry's facing tough times. Here is General Dynamics' gross margin over the past five years:

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

General Dynamics has been able to grow its gross margin, which tends to dictate a company's overall profitability. This is great news; however, General Dynamics investors need to keep an eye on this over the coming quarters. If margins begin to drop, you'll want to know why.

Next, let's explore what other investors think about General Dynamics. We love the contrarian view here at Fool.com, but we don't mind cheating off of our neighbors every once in a while. For this, we'll examine two metrics: Motley Fool CAPS ratings and short interest. The former tells us how Fool.com's 170,000-strong community of individual analysts rate the stock. The latter shows what proportion of investors are betting that the stock will fall. I'm including other peer companies once again for context.

Company

CAPS Rating

Short Interest (% of Float)

General Dynamics **** 1.4
United Technologies **** 1.0
Boeing *** 1.3
Honeywell International **** 1.7

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

The Fool community is rather bullish on General Dynamics. We typically like to see our stocks rated at four or five stars. Anything below that is a less-than-bullish indicator. I highly recommend you visit General Dynamics' stock pitch page to see the verbatim reasons behind the ratings.

Here, short interest is at a mere 1.4%. This typically indicates few large institutional investors are betting against the stock.

Now, let's study General Dynamics' debt situation, with a little help from the debt-to-equity ratio. This metric tells us how much debt the company's taken on, relative to its overall capital structure.

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

General Dynamics has been taking on some additional debt over the past five years. When we take into account increasing total equity over the same time, this has caused debt-to-equity to remain near its five-year average, as seen in the above chart. I consider a debt-to-equity ratio below 50% to be healthy, though it varies by industry. General Dynamics is below this level, at 23.6%.

The last metric I like to look at is the current ratio, which lets investors judge a company's short-term liquidity. If General Dynamics had to convert its current assets to cash in one year, how many times over could the company cover its current liabilities? As of the latest filing, General Dynamics has a current ratio of 1.30. General Dynamics could cover its current liabilities, but it's still below a healthy level of 1.5.

Finally, it's highly beneficial to determine whether General Dynamics belongs in your portfolio -- and to know how many similar businesses already occupy your stable of investments. If you haven't already, be sure to put your tickers into Fool.com's free portfolio tracker, My Watchlist. You can get started right away by clicking here to add General Dynamics.

The recap

General Dynamics has failed only one of the quick tests that would make it a sell. This is great, but does it mean you should hold your General Dynamics shares? Not necessarily. Just keep your eye on these trends over the coming quarters.

Remember to add General Dynamics to My Watchlist to help you keep track of all our coverage of the company on Fool.com.

If you haven't had a chance yet, be sure to read this article detailing how I missed out on more than $100,000 in gains through wrong-headed selling.

Jeremy Phillips does not own shares of the companies mentioned.

General Dynamics is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. 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.


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