Everyone would love to find the perfect stock. But will you ever really find a stock that gives you everything you could possibly want?

One thing's for sure: If you don't look, you'll never find truly great investments. So let's first take a look at what you'd want to see from a perfect stock, and then decide if Corning (NYSE: GLW) fits the bill.

The quest for perfection
When you're looking for great stocks, you have to do your due diligence. It's not enough to rely on a single measure, because a stock that looks great based on one factor may turn out to be horrible in other ways. The best stocks, however, excel in many different areas, which all come together to make up a very attractive picture.

Some of the most basic yet important things to look for in a stock are:

  • 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 don't mean anything if a company can't turn them into profits. Strong margins ensure a company is able to turn revenue into profit.
  • Balance sheet. Debt-laden companies have banks and bondholders competing with shareholders for management's attention. Companies with strong balance sheets don't have to worry about the distraction of debt.
  • Money-making opportunities. Companies need to be able to turn their resources into profitable business opportunities. Return on equity helps measure how well a company is finding those opportunities.
  • Valuation. You can't afford to pay too much for even the best companies. Earnings multiples are simple, but using normalized figures gives you a sense of how valuation fits into a longer-term context.
  • Dividends. Investors are demanding tangible proof of profits, and there's nothing more tangible than getting a check every three months. 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 Corning.


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


7 out of 10

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's. NM = not meaningful; Corning didn't pay a dividend in 2005. Total score = number of passes.

Corning clocks in with a 7, which while short of perfect is still very good. If the company were to raise its quarterly payout of $0.05 by just a few pennies, it could clear two more points on the dividend front. One thing to keep in mind, Corning’s margins are partially juiced by returns from companies in which it has partial ownership. The income from these companies is included in Corning’s returns while the revenues and other items aren’t consolidated into Corning. Still, the company has impressive margins.

Moreover, Corning has a number of business lines that could push long-term revenue growth above the 15% threshold. Its core LCD glass products business stands to benefit from a resurgence in screen-based devices, ranging from smartphones and computers to television sets. Although U.S. television sales have been stagnant, TV sales in Japan and China are a big growth opportunity for the company. Corning also produces bendable fiber-optic cable, which Verizon (NYSE: VZ) uses to serve its FiOS customers.

But Corning isn't just about glass. Its Hemlock Semiconductor joint venture with Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW) and two Japanese companies makes polysilicon for solar energy applications, counting LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK) and Sunpower (Nasdaq: SPWRA) among its customers. All told, Corning not only has an impressive history but also has great prospects for a bright future.

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 out the best investments from the rest.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.