Should you sell RealNetworks (Nasdaq: RNWK) today?

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

Don't sell on price
Over the past 12 months, RealNetworks has risen 4.7% versus an S&P 500 return of 13.7%. Investors in RealNetworks are no doubt disappointed with their returns, but is now the time to cut and run? Not necessarily. Short-term underperformance alone is not a sell sign. The market may be missing the critical element of your RealNetworks investing thesis. For historical context, let's compare RealNetworks's recent price to its 52-week and five-year highs. I've also included a few other businesses in the same or related industries:

Company

Recent Price

52-Week High

5-Year High

RealNetworks $4.04 $5.41 $12.10
Rovi (Nasdaq: ROVI) $67.14 $67.40 $67.40
Adobe Systems (Nasdaq: ADBE) $33.38 $37.30 $48.50

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

As you can see, RealNetworks 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 margins 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 is RealNetworks's gross margin over the past five years:

Rnwkgrossmargins

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

RealNetworks is clearly having issues maintaining its gross margin, which tends to dictate a company's overall profitability. RealNetworks investors need to keep an eye on this troubling trend over the coming quarters.

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

Company

CAPS Rating

Short Interest (% of Float)

RealNetworks ** 3.1
Rovi ** 7.4
Adobe Systems *** 1.9

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

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

Here, short interest is at a mere 3.1%. This typically indicates few large institutional investors are betting against the stock.

Now, let's study RealNetworks'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.

Rnwktotaldebttoequity

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

RealNetworks has done a good job of wiping out its already-minuscule debt over the past five years. Even though I don't like to see decreasing total equity over the same time period, it's a positive sign that debt-to-equity has decreased, as seen in the chart above.

The last metric I like to look at is the current ratio, which lets investors judge a company's short-term liquidity. If RealNetworks had to convert its current assets to cash in one year, how many times over could the company cover its current liabilities? As of the latest filing, RealNetworks has a current ratio of 3.13. This is a healthy sign. I like to see companies with current ratios equal to or greater than 1.5.

Finally, it's highly beneficial to determine whether RealNetworks 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 clicking here to add RealNetworks.

The final recap

Rnwksellingrecap

RealNetworks has failed only two of the quick tests that would make it a sell. This is great, but does it mean you should hold your RealNetworks shares? Not necessarily. Just keep your eye on these trends over the coming quarters.

Remember to add RealNetworks 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 does not own shares of the companies mentioned.

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