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 United Technologies (NYSE: UTX) 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 United Technologies.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 5.4% fail
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 0.2% fail
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 28.9% fail
  Net Margin > 15% 7.9% fail
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 57.9% fail
  Current Ratio > 1.3 1.29 fail
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% 21.4% pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 14.79 pass
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 2.3% pass
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% 14.7% pass
  Total Score   4 out of 10

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

United Technologies comes in as a 4, showing it has plenty of room for improvement. Although the stock is reasonably priced and pays a nice dividend, it hasn't produced the growth you'd like to see from a company whose shares you own.

As a conglomerate, United Technologies has its nose into a bunch of different businesses. In its aerospace and helicopter businesses, it goes head-to-head with Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) and General Dynamics (NYSE: GD) for defense funding while supplying Boeing (NYSE: BA) with parts for its commercial aircraft. But United also builds elevators, heating and cooling equipment, and fire safety products.

In many ways, United Technologies closely resembles General Electric (NYSE: GE), with one exception: It has avoided the financial industry, whereas the GE Capital division has thrown General Electric for a loop in recent years. But they still face the same problems: a sluggish economy and uncertainties over future defense spending that threaten a big part of their revenue.

United Technologies is a reasonable play on the health of the economy and arguably stands to benefit from Republican control of the House. But as far as perfect stocks go, it has a long way to go.

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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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.