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 U.S. Steel
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 U.S. Steel.
What We Want to See
Pass or Fail?
|Growth||5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15%||5.6%||Fail|
|1-Year Revenue Growth > 12%||50%||Pass|
|Margins||Gross Margin > 35%||6%||Fail|
|Net Margin > 15%||(2.2%)||Fail|
|Balance Sheet||Debt to Equity < 50%||95.5%||Fail|
|Current Ratio > 1.3||1.57||Pass|
|Opportunities||Return on Equity > 15%||(9.7%)||Fail|
|Valuation||Normalized P/E < 20||NM||NM|
|Dividends||Current Yield > 2%||0.5%||Fail|
|5-Year Dividend Growth > 10%||(12.9%)||Fail|
|Total Score||2 out of 9|
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's. NM = not meaningful due to negative earnings. Total score = number of passes.
With a score of only 2, U.S. Steel isn't building a strong framework for its shares. The steelmaker has faced tough times for years, calling into question the entire foundation of the sluggish U.S. economic recovery.
As one of the largest steel producers in the world, you might expect U.S. Steel to act as a bellwether for the industry as a whole. Yet after reaping huge profits during the boom years of economic expansion, immense losses took their place in 2009, forcing it to slash its dividend, and while the company has clawed back recently, it is still losing money . Even though competitors -- including fellow giants ArcelorMittal
In addition to the tough environment, longer-term concerns exist. The automobile segment is incredibly important for U.S. Steel, but with fuel efficiency becoming ever-more important, aluminum maker Alcoa
After a long, tough road, things may have hit bottom for U.S. Steel. As fellow Fool Dan Dzombak recently reported, U.S. Steel's economic-value-added metric accelerated faster than that of peers like Nucor and Allegheny Technologies
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.