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 whether Gap
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 Gap.
|Factor||What We Want to See||Actual||Pass or Fail?|
|Growth||5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15%||(2.3%)||fail|
|1-Year Revenue Growth > 12%||3.3%||fail|
|Margins||Gross Margin > 35%||40.9%||pass|
|Net Margin > 15%||8.3%||fail|
|Balance Sheet||Debt to Equity < 50%||0.0%||pass|
|Current Ratio > 1.3||2.00||pass|
|Opportunities||Return on Equity > 15%||26.3%||pass|
|Valuation||Normalized P/E < 20||11.13||pass|
|Dividends||Current Yield > 2%||1.97%||fail|
|5-Year Dividend Growth > 10%||22.4%||pass|
|Total Score||6 out of 10|
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's. Total score = number of passes.
Gap's score of 6 is pretty good. But the retailer has made several gaffes lately that highlight its ongoing challenges.
The clothing retailer's most recent problem came from an unlikely source: its logo. Gap changed its landmark blue box to a design that many criticized as amateurish. For a company ranking among the top 100 brands in the world, it was a silly mistake.
What's potentially more troubling is the company's long-term trend toward perceived obsolescence. Competitors Abercrombie & Fitch
Gap has a lot of things going for it, though. Its pristine balance sheet and good dividends are assets for investors, and its valuation is quite attractive. Even with its strongest growth behind it, Gap shares may be a good value play right now.
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 Gap 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. The Fool owns shares of Aeropostale. 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.
More from The Motley Fool
Has Abercrombie & Fitch Finally Found the Secret to Success?
The clothing retailer looks like it's on the comeback trail, but looks can be deceiving.
Stay Away! 3 Dividend Stocks That Are Yield Traps
CenturyLink, National CineMedia, and Abercrombie & Fitch are all dangerous income investments.
3 Top Dividend Stocks With Yields Over 3%
Looking for top income-generating stocks? Kinder Morgan, Abercrombie & Fitch, and IBM should be on your radar.