Should you sell Advanced Battery Technologies (Nasdaq: ABAT) today?

The decision to sell a stock you've researched and followed for months or years is never easy. If you fall in love with your stock holdings, you risk becoming vulnerable to confirmation bias -- listening only to information that supports your theories, and rejecting any contradictions.

In 2004, longtime Fool Bill Mann called confirmation bias one of the most dangerous components of investing. This warning has helped my own personal investing throughout the Great Recession. Now, I want to help you identify potential sell signs on popular stocks within our 4-million-strong Fool.com community.

Today I'm laser-focused on Advanced Battery Technologies, ready to evaluate its price, valuation, margins, and liquidity. Let's get started!

Don't sell on price
Over the past 12 months, Advanced Battery Technologies is down 6.8% versus an S&P 500 return of 11.3%. Investors in Advanced Battery Technologies are no doubt disappointed with their returns, but is now the time to cut and run? Not necessarily. Short-term underperformance alone is not a sell sign. The market may be missing the critical element of your Advanced Battery Technologies investing thesis. For historical context, let's compare Advanced Battery Technologies' recent price to its 52-week and five-year highs. I've also included a few other businesses in the same or related industries:

Company

Recent Price

52-Week High

5-Year High

Advanced Battery Technologies $3.59 $4.80 $9.66
A123 Systems (Nasdaq: AONE) $8.97 $28.20 $28.20
Ener1 (Nasdaq: HEV) $3.68 $7.33 $9.49
Valence Technology (Nasdaq: VLNC) $1.15 $1.79 $4.85


Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

As you can see, Advanced Battery Technologies is down from its 52-week high. If you bought near the peak, now's the time to think back to why you bought it in the first place. If your reasons still hold true, you shouldn't sell based on this information alone.

Potential sell signs
First up, we'll get a rough idea of Advanced Battery Technologies' valuation. I'm comparing Advanced Battery Technologies' recent P/E ratio of 6.8 to where it's been over the past five years.



Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Advanced Battery Technologies' P/E is lower than its four-year average, which could indicate the stock is undervalued. This is mostly driven by outsized valuation investors were putting on the company in 2007.

A low P/E isn't always a good sign, since the market may be lowering its valuation of the company because of less attractive growth prospects. It does indicate that, on a purely historical basis, Advanced Battery Technologies looks cheap.

Now, let's look at the gross margins trend, which represents the amount of profit a company makes for each $1 in sales, after deducting all costs directly related to that sale. A deteriorating gross margin over time can indicate that competition has forced the company to lower prices, that it can't control costs, or that its whole industry's facing tough times. Here is Advanced Battery Technologies' gross margin over the past five years:



Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Advanced Battery Technologies is having no trouble maintaining its gross margin, which tends to dictate a company's overall profitability. This is solid news; however, Advanced Battery Technologies investors need to keep an eye on this over the coming quarters. If margins begin to dip, you'll want to know why.

Next, let's explore what other investors think about Advanced Battery Technologies. We love the contrarian view here at Fool.com, but we don't mind cheating off of our neighbors every once in a while. For this, we'll examine two metrics: Motley Fool CAPS ratings and short interest. The former tells us how Fool.com's 170,000-strong community of individual analysts rate the stock. The latter shows what proportion of investors are betting that the stock will fall. I'm including other peer companies once again for context.

Company

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Short Interest (Float)

Advanced Battery Technologies 3 9.9%
A123 Systems 3 18.6%
Ener1 1 10.6%
Valence Technology 2 13.5%


Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

The Fool community is in the middle of the road on Advanced Battery Technologies. We typically like to see our stocks rated at four or five stars. Anything below that is a less-than-bullish indicator. I highly recommend you visit Advanced Battery Technologies' stock pitch page to see the verbatim reasons behind the ratings.

Here, short interest is at a high 9.9%. This typically indicates that large institutional investors are betting against the stock.

Now let's study Advanced Battery Technologies' debt situation, with a little help from the debt-to-equity ratio. This metric tells us how much debt the company's taken on, relative to its overall capital structure.



Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Advanced Battery Technologies has taken on very little debt over the past five years.

When we take into account increasing total equity over the same time period, this has caused debt-to-equity to decrease, as seen in the above chart. Based on the trend alone, that's a great sign. I consider a debt-to-equity ratio below 50% to be healthy, though it varies by industry.  Advanced Battery Technologies currently has no debt on its balance sheet, which (of course) means it has a 0% debt-to-equity ratio. This is great news.

The last metric I like to look at is the current ratio, which lets investors judge a company's short-term liquidity. If Advanced Battery Technologies had to convert its current assets to cash in one year, how many times over could the company cover its liabilities? As of the last filing, Advanced Battery Technologies has a current ratio of 32.8. This is a healthy sign. I like to see companies with current ratios greater than 1.5.

Finally, it's highly beneficial to determine whether Advanced Battery Technologies belongs in your portfolio -- and to know how many similar businesses already occupy your stable of investments. If you haven't already, be sure to put your tickers into Fool.com's free portfolio tracker, My Watchlist. You can get started right away by clicking here to add Advanced Battery Technologies

The recap


Advanced Battery Technologies has failed two of the quick tests that would make it a sell. This is great, but does it mean you should hold your Advanced Battery Technologies shares? Not necessarily. Just keep your eye on these trends over the coming quarters.

Remember to add Advanced Battery Technologies to My Watchlist  to help you keep track of all our coverage of the company on Fool.com.

What companies would you like me to cover next in this series? Please leave your comments below.

Jeremy Phillips does not own shares of the companies mentioned. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.