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 MDU Resources (NYSE:MDU) 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 MDU Resources.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?


5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15%




1-Year Revenue Growth > 12%




Gross Margin > 35%




Net Margin > 15%



Balance Sheet

Debt to Equity < 50%




Current Ratio > 1.3




Return on Equity > 15%




Normalized P/E < 20




Current Yield > 2%




5-Year Dividend Growth > 10%




Total Score


2 out of 10

Source: S&P Capital IQ. Total score = number of passes.

Since we looked at MDU Resources last year, the company has seen its score drop by a point, as its current ratio deteriorated somewhat. The stock has also largely stalled out, with less than a 10% gain over the past year.

MDU is a company that has seen a huge transformation in the past five years. Traditionally, MDU has focused on its utility business, delivering electricity and natural gas service to nearly a million customers in the Northern Plains. But with the recent oil boom in the Bakken region of western North Dakota and eastern Montana, MDU finds itself in the middle of a boom that has attracted energy giant Statoil (NYSE:EQNR) as well as Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR) and Kodiak Oil & Gas (NYSE: KOG) to the region.

As a result, MDU has taken advantage of the situation to diversify. On one hand, MDU has become an exploration and production company in its own right. But it's also helping to provide construction-related services through its production and sale of construction aggregates, asphalt, and other building materials to accommodate the huge rise in demand in the area.

Like many utilities, MDU has been a consistent dividend payer, weighing in with more than two decades of annual dividend increases, joining Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED) as a Dividend Aristocrat earlier this year. It will be interesting to see how the company does going forward, though, given that it has a capital-intensive energy business under its belt now.

For MDU to improve, it needs to reconcile the high-growth potential of its energy business with the stability of its utility business. That hybrid will take some getting used to, but it could result in the stock reaching higher toward perfection more quickly than it otherwise would.

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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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.