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 KB Home (NYSE: KBH) 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 KB Home.

Factor What We Want to See Actual Pass or Fail?
Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% (27.9%) Fail
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% (12.9%) Fail
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 19.2% Fail
  Net Margin > 15% (4.4%) Fail
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 281% Fail
  Current Ratio > 1.3 3.70 Pass
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% (10.4%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 NM Fail
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 1.8% Fail
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% (19.7%) Fail
  Total Score   1 out of 10

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's. NM = not meaningful; KB Home had negative earnings over the period. Total score = number of passes.

With just a single point, KB Home looks about as far from perfect as you can get. That's not surprising, given the carnage among homebuilders generally.

Look at just about any homebuilder, and the story looks similar to what you see at KB Home. Toll Brothers (NYSE: TOL) and PulteGroup (NYSE: PHM) are both similarly mired in red ink, and although DR Horton (NYSE: DHI) has managed to eke out a small profit recently, it's insignificant compared to the success these companies enjoyed during the housing boom.

Some promising statistics on housing starts have some once again calling for a bottom in the housing market. Yet the waiting game has been expensive for KB Home and most homebuilders. Only NVR (NYSE: NVR), with its unique capital-light option-based business model, has stayed consistently profitable throughout the housing crisis. In contrast, owning land outright forces homebuilders to write down asset values as the market plunges, leading to bad results.

At some point, the housing market will hit bottom, and homebuilders like KB Home could bounce back strongly. For now, though, seekers for the perfect stock would be better served looking elsewhere.

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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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. KB Home is a Motley Fool Big Short short-sale choice. 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.