Should you sell Frontline (NYSE: FRO) 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 Frontline, ready to evaluate its price, valuation, margins, and liquidity. Let's get started!

Don't sell on price
Over the past 12 months, Frontline has risen 29% versus an S&P 500 return of 11.3%. Investors in Frontline have every reason to be proud of their returns, but is it time to take some off the top? Not necessarily. Short-term outperformance alone is not a sell sign. The market may be just beginning to realize the true, intrinsic value of Frontline. For historical context, let's compare Frontline's recent price to 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

Frontline $28.43 $38.85 $72.40
Teekay (NYSE: TK) $26.73 $29.76 $63.70
Ship Finance International Limited (NYSE: SFL) $19.43 $21.29 $32.90
DryShips (Nasdaq: DRYS) $4.81 $7.62 $131.30

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

As you can see, Frontline 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 Frontline's valuation. I'm comparing Frontline's recent P/E ratio of 14.1 to where it's been over the past five years.



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

Frontline's P/E is higher than its five-year average, which could indicate the stock is overvalued. A high P/E isn't always a bad sign, since the company's growth prospects may also be increasing alongside the market's valuation. However, it definitely indicates that, on a purely historical basis, Frontline looks expensive.

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 Frontline's gross margin over the past five years:



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

Frontline is clearly having issues maintaining its gross margin, which tends to dictate a company's overall profitability. Frontline investors need to keep an eye on this troubling trend over the coming quarters.

Next, let's explore what other investors think about Frontline. 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 (Float)

Frontline 4 5.8%
Teekay 3 3.2%
Ship Finance International Limited 5 5.9%
DryShips 3 7.7%

Sources: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's, and Motley Fool CAPS.

The Fool community is rather bullish on Frontline. 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 Frontline's stock pitch page to see the verbatim reasons behind the ratings.

Here, short interest is at a high 5.8%. This typically indicates that large institutional investors are betting against the stock.

Now, let's study Frontline's 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.

Frontline's total debt is around its 5-year average, though the company did a good job reducing its debt in fiscal 2009. When we take into account essentially unchanged total equity over the same time period, debt-to-equity has decreased, as seen in the above chart. Based on the trend alone, that's a good sign. I consider a debt-to-equity ratio below 50% to be healthy, though it varies by industry.  Frontline is currently above this level, at 357.2%.

The last metric I like to look at is the current ratio, which lets investors judge a company's short-term liquidity. If Frontline had to convert its current assets to cash in one year, how many times over could the company cover its liabilities? As of the last filing, Frontline has a current ratio of 1.46. Frontline could cover its liabilities, but it's still below a healthy level of 1.5.

Finally, it's highly beneficial to determine whether Frontline 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 Frontline.


Frontline has failed four of the quick tests that would make it a sell. Does it mean you should sell your Frontline shares today solely because of this? Not necessarily, but keep your eye on these trends over the coming quarters.

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

What companies would you like me to cover next in this series? Please leave your comments below.

Jeremy Phillips does not own shares of the companies mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.