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 China Automotive Systems (Nasdaq: CAAS) 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 China Automotive Systems.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 39.0% Pass
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 56.7% Pass
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 27.3% Fail
  Net Margin > 15% 10.2% Fail
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 56.4% Fail
  Current Ratio > 1.3 1.39 Pass
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% 29.8% Pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 7.05 Pass
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 0.0% Fail
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% 0.0% Fail
       
  Total Score   5 out of 10

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

With five points, China Automotive Systems falls right in the middle of our range. The company was already facing headwinds even before the latest scandals hitting Chinese small-cap stocks started to hit.

China Automotive makes components for auto manufacturers. Last year, Global Gains analyst Tim Hanson took a close look at how the Chinese manufacturing industry was extremely vulnerable to pressure on China to let its currency strengthen, which would remove much of the cost advantage that Chinese manufacturers like China XD Plastics (Nasdaq: CXDC), Nam Tai Electronics (NYSE: NTE), and China Automotive have. He concluded that relatively cheap valuations were warranted, given that business could dry up quickly if the yuan appreciated against the U.S. dollar.

But recently, investors are scared to death of small publicly traded Chinese companies. Long trading halts stemming from fraud allegations for companies like Longtop Financial (NYSE: LFT) have led to widespread rumors of similar problems, forcing companies like Yongye International (Nasdaq: YONG) and China-Biotics (Nasdaq: CHBT) onto the defensive. China Automotive has seen its shares plummet from more than $20 last August to just above $7 now.

Fundamentals, though, continue to look strong. In its most recent quarter, the company saw operating income more than double, while revenue was well above analyst estimates. More importantly for nervous investors, the company said it was making progress on restating its past financials to make necessary adjustments, and expects 20% revenue growth this year. Yet now, the company faces a delisting notice for failing to file its quarterly report on time.

Things for China Automotive are anything but perfect right now -- unless you're a deep-value investor with complete confidence in the company's integrity and financial results. The company hasn't made it easy to feel that way, but in the long run, China Automotive may well prove its supporters right.

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.

Click here to add China Automotive Systems to My Watchlist, which can find all of our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.

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."

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Yongye International and Nam Tai Electronics. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Nam Tai Electronics and Yongye International. 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.