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 Fusion-io (UNKNOWN:FIO.DL) 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 Fusion-io.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Growth

5-year annual revenue growth > 15%

333.1%

Pass

 

1-year revenue growth > 12%

47.8%

Pass

Margins

Gross margin > 35%

58%

Pass

 

Net margin > 15%

(0.3%)

Fail

Balance sheet

Debt to equity < 50%

0%

Pass

 

Current ratio > 1.3

7.24

Pass

Opportunities

Return on equity > 15%

(0.3%)

Fail

Valuation

Normalized P/E < 20

156.53

Fail

Dividends

Current yield > 2%

0%

Fail

 

5-year dividend growth > 10%

0%

Fail

       
 

Total score

 

5 out of 10

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

Since we looked at Fusion-io last year, the company gained a point as it established a nearly five-year track record of growth. But shares haven't been so lucky, losing nearly half their value over the past year.

Fusion-io has taken the data storage industry by storm. With its focus on flash memory and solid-state storage, Fusion-io is taking aim at old-style hard-disk drive makers, seeking to provide better speed and functionality to enterprise customers.

But one major problem that Fusion-io has is that its products are apparently too good. At the end of January, Fusion-io said that revenue for its fiscal third quarter would come in more than 40% below where analysts had expected, with the full-year 2013 shortfall amounting to as much as $100 million. The company said that timing of purchases from its two main customers, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), would push back future sales. Facebook and Apple both rely heavily on Fusion-io, together accounting for half of Fusion-io's revenue, but if their data centers work so well that they won't need further orders from the flash-memory technology provider, then Apple's and Facebook's gain is Fusion-io's loss.

Fusion-io also faces competitive threats. Rather than accepting obsolescence, hard-drive maker Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX) has been rumored to be looking at buying Fusion-io rival OCZ Technology (UNKNOWN:OCZ.DL), which is also a solid-state drive maker. The combination could force Fusion-io to find its own partner or else face a behemoth competitor that could potentially crush it with its industry relationships.

For Fusion-io to improve, it needs to take its revenue gains and convert them into profits. That's a tall order in a highly competitive market, but it's absolutely necessary if Fusion-io has aspirations to become a perfect stock.

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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