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 Chico's FAS (NYSE: CHS) 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 Chico's.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 8.3% fail
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 14.5% pass
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 56.6% pass
  Net Margin > 15% 5.8% fail
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 0% pass
  Current Ratio > 1.3 3.16 pass
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% 10.8% fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 16.94 pass
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 1.6% fail
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% NM* pass
  Total Score   6 out of 10

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's. NM = not meaningful; Chico's started paying a dividend earlier this year. Total score = number of passes.

Chico's score of 6 isn't perfect, but it's pretty good, especially within the cutthroat retail industry. Low profit margins and slow growth have been the norm lately, so even some of Chico's failures above are fairly impressive.

Unfortunately, the stock price hasn't reflected much enthusiasm about Chico's financials. Concerns about whether baby boomers will be able to keep spending as they approach retirement have hit shares of boomer favorites like Chico's, Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HOG), and Ann Taylor (NYSE: ANN).

Still, Chico's is at least in position to weather a coming storm better than some of its industry peers. It's profitable, which is more than Coldwater Creek (Nasdaq: CWTR) can say. It doesn't have the debt overhang that Liz Claiborne (NYSE: LIZ) has. And it's avoided the frumpy reputation of Talbots (NYSE: TLB).

That's not to say that Chico's is the perfect stock -- or even the perfect retail stock. But among its target demographic, Chico's looks a lot better than most of the alternatives.

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.

Click here to add Chico's to My Watchlist, which can find all of our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.

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. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool has a disclosure policy.