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 MedcoHealth Solutions (NYSE: MHS) 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 that 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 MedcoHealth.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 12.2% fail
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 13.5% pass
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 6.6% fail
  Net Margin > 15% 2.2% fail
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 81.7% fail
  Current Ratio > 1.3 1.07 fail
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% 25.6% pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 18.43 pass
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 0% fail
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% 0% fail
       
  Total Score   3 out of 10

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's. Total score = number of passes.

With a score of 3, MedcoHealth clearly isn't perfect. Lately, the company has felt plenty of pressure from uncertainties raised by the new health-care reform law. In addition, a slowdown in new generic drugs from manufacturers Teva Pharmaceutical (Nasdaq: TEVA) and Mylan (Nasdaq: MYL) won't help MedcoHealth's margins in the near future.

Moreover, the pharmacy benefit management business is increasingly cutthroat. Two years ago, MedcoHealth lost its contract with General Electric (NYSE: GE) to competitor CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS). With its contract with UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) up for renewal in 2012, MedcoHealth faces a tough and uncertain future in a highly competitive business.

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.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. MedcoHealth Solutions and UnitedHealth Group are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on UnitedHealth Group, which is also a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. The Fool owns shares of Teva Pharmaceutical and UnitedHealth Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.