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Has Northrop Grumman Become the Perfect Stock?

Dan Caplinger
March 21, 2013

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 Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) 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 Northrop Grumman.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?


5-year annual revenue growth > 15%




1-year revenue growth > 12%




Gross margin > 35%




Net margin > 15%



Balance sheet

Debt to equity < 50%




Current ratio > 1.3




Return on equity > 15%




Normalized P/E < 20




Current yield > 2%




5-year dividend growth > 10%




Total score


5 out of 10

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

Since we looked at Northrop Grumman last year, the company has kept its five-point score for the third year in a row. The stock has done reasonably well, rising more than 10% over the past year.

The defense industry has been under siege for years from the threat of budget cuts, and finally, some of those threats have become reality. With sequestration having taken effect, spending cuts across the Defense Department have had an impact on projects large and small.

But rising tensions with North Korea have given Northrop and many of its peers the prospect of increased business with the Pentagon. Now that North Korea has said that it has a long-range missile that could reach the West Coast, the U.S. says it plans to increase funding for Lockheed Martin's (NYSE: LMT) Aegis missile-defen