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 Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY) 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 Occidental Petroleum.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 7% fail
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 27.4% pass
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 66.4% pass
  Net Margin > 15% 22.4% pass
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 8.2% pass
  Current Ratio > 1.3 1.52 pass
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% 13.7% fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 13.86 pass
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 1.9% fail
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% 18.7% pass
  Total Score   7 out of 10

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

With a score of 7, Occidental Petroleum may not be perfect, but it's doing pretty well. Rebounding energy prices and brighter economic prospects have pushed shares up 66% in the past two years.

Unlike larger global players ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX) --  each of which has less than a third of its assets within the U.S. -- Occidental has a major domestic presence. Occidental's U.S. business, which includes oil and gas operations throughout the Southwest, represents nearly 70% of its total assets.

Despite its long-term gains, the stock has hovered near 52-week lows recently. Part of the reason may be uncertainty within its executive suite, where CEO and board chair Ray Irani recently announced he would give up his CEO role next year amid criticism of high pay from activist shareholders.

But shares rebounded after the company announced strong earnings and revenue growth last week. That better growth is priced into the stock, as its valuations are significantly higher than peers ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) and Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO).

Occidental's future success relies on continuing strength in energy prices. As long as trends point up, then Occidental should continue to prosper.

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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