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 Tesoro (NYSE: TSO) 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 Tesoro.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 4.4% Fail
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 24.1% Pass
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 3.9% Fail
  Net Margin > 15% (0.1%) Fail
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 57.6% Fail
  Current Ratio > 1.3 1.15 Fail
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% (0.9%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 NM Fail
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 0.0% Fail
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% 0.0% Fail
  Total Score   1 out of 10

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

Tesoro's score of 1 is about as far from perfect as you can get. But after an incredibly tough time for the refiner, things may now be turning around in the industry.

After the market meltdown, most stocks rebounded sharply, but refining stocks generally performed horribly during the recovery. Although Tesoro escaped the fate of competitor Western Refining (NYSE: WNR) and its 50% drop in the year after the market's lows, it still managed only flat stock performance while the overall market was soaring.

But lately, fundamentals have turned around. Oil that requires more refining has gotten relatively cheaper than light sweet crude, boosting business for refineries. In addition, crack spreads -- which measure the difference between what refiners pay for crude versus what they receive for selling refined products like heating oil and gasoline -- have widened. That has especially helped Tesoro and Frontier Oil (NYSE: FTO) because of the regions where their business is concentrated.

Still, Tesoro has some catching up to do. Although it's growing faster than rival Valero Energy (NYSE: VLO), Valero has been profitable over the past 12 months, while Tesoro posted a narrow loss for the year.

Despite the upswing, Tesoro isn't the perfect stock. But if conditions continue to improve, Tesoro should begin to look a whole lot stronger.

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. 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.