Every investor would love to stumble upon the perfect stock. But will you ever really find a stock that provides everything you could possibly want?

One thing's for sure: You'll never discover truly great investments unless you actively look for them. Let's discuss the ideal qualities of a perfect stock, then decide if Brigham Exploration (Nasdaq: BEXP) fits the bill.

The quest for perfection
Stocks that look great based on one factor may prove horrible elsewhere, making due diligence a crucial part of your investing research. The best stocks excel in many different areas, including these important factors:

  • 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 mean nothing if a company can't produce profits from them. Strong margins ensure that company can turn revenue into profit.
  • Balance sheet. At debt-laden companies, banks and bondholders compete with shareholders for management's attention. Companies with strong balance sheets don't have to worry about the distraction of debt.
  • Money-making opportunities. Return on equity helps measure how well a company is finding opportunities to turn its resources into profitable business endeavors.
  • Valuation. You can't afford to pay too much for even the best companies. By using normalized figures, you can see how a stock's simple earnings multiple fits into a longer-term context.
  • Dividends. For tangible proof of profits, a check to shareholders every three months can't be beat. 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 Brigham Exploration.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-year annual revenue growth > 15% 16.5% Pass
  1-year revenue growth > 12% 172.7% Pass
Margins Gross margin > 35% 80.7% Pass
  Net margin > 15% 14.6% Fail
Balance sheet Debt to equity < 50% 50.3% Fail
  Current ratio > 1.3 1.37 Pass
Opportunities Return on equity > 15% 7.6% Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 116.6 3 Fail
Dividends Current yield > 2% 0% Fail
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 0% Fail
  Total Score   4 out of 10

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

Brigham Exploration can only dig up four points. The energy exploration company has grown very quickly in the past year on the back of higher oil prices, but as commodities start to top out, its future may soon be in question.

Brigham is a major player in the Bakken shale play of North Dakota and Montana. It holds more than 300,000 acres, and it has ramped up production quickly, leading to outpaced revenue growth in the past year. Moreover, the company plans to double daily production in 2011.

Of course, Brigham has plenty of company in the Bakken. Oasis Petroleum (NYSE: OAS) has concentrated its focus on the Bakken after its recent IPO, and Kodiak Oil & Gas (AMEX: KOG) expanded in the area last year.

Perhaps the obvious exit strategy for shareholders is to hope for a buyout. With Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) and EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG) suffering from low natural gas prices, expansion could lead them to acquire smaller players such as Brigham.

In the meantime, though, Brigham has to hope that high oil prices and successful production increases will continue. If not, then this stock could stay well short of perfection for years to come.

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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Finding the perfect stock is only one piece of a successful investment strategy. Get the big picture by taking a look at our 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly.