Should you sell Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL) today?

The decision to sell a stock you've researched and followed for months or years is never easy. But 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 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 Novell, ready to evaluate its price, valuation, margins, and liquidity. Let's get started!

Don't sell on price
Over the past 12 months, Novell has risen by 37.9% versus an S&P 500 return of 11.3%.  Investors 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 Novell. For historical context, let's compare Novell's recent price with its 52-week and five-year highs. I've also included a few other businesses in the same industry or a related one.

Company

Recent Price

52-Week High

5-Year High

Novell $6.08 $6.53 $9.83
Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC) $15.73 $19.16 $34.10
Check Point Software Technologies (Nasdaq: CHKP) $39.27 $39.98 $40.00
Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) $40.40 $41.75 $41.70

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

As you can see, Novell 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, let's look at the gross-margin 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's Novell's gross margin over the past five years.


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

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

Next, let's explore what other investors think about Novell. We love the contrarian view here at Fool.com, but we don't mind cheating off our neighbors every once in a while. For this portion of our research, 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 rates the stock, and the latter shows what proportion of investors is betting that the stock will fall. I'm including other peer companies once again for context.

Company

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Short Interest (% of Float)

Novell 2 2.1
Symantec 2 3.0
Check Point Software Technologies 3 2.4
Red Hat 2 2.3

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

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

Here, short interest is at a mere 2.1%. A number like this typically indicates that few large institutional investors are betting against the stock.

Now let's study Novell'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.

Novell has done a good job of wiping out its debt over the past five years, even though total equity has also declined.

The last metric I like to look at is the current ratio, which lets investors judge a company's short-term liquidity. If Novell had to convert its current assets to cash in one year, how many times over could it cover its liabilities? As of the last filing, Novell has a current ratio of 1.98. That's a healthy sign. I like to see companies with current ratios greater than 1.5.

Finally, it's highly beneficial to determine whether Novell 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 adding Novell.

The final recap


Novell has failed one of the quick tests that would make it a sell. Does that mean you should hold your shares? Not necessarily. Just keep your eye on these trends over the coming quarters.

Remember to add Novell 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 owns no shares of the companies mentioned. 

Check Point Software Technologies is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. 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.