We've all heard of the "death rattle," the last gasp from a lost soul's lungs. Sometimes, we seem to hear it from the companies in which we invest. Revenues dry up. Margins contract. Profits evaporate. All these signs suggest that their condition is worsening -- a financial death rattle, if you will.

Stocks in sickbay
Don't assume that all such companies are goners. Some will barely cling to life, while others will make a full recovery. Here, however, we're seeking companies that have all but given up the ghost.

For help, we'll turn to the clever coroners at our 145,000-strong Motley Fool CAPS community, where members give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to some 5,300 stocks. We've unearthed a handful of stocks that look like they might be headed six feet under, based on their one-star CAPS ratings.

Now we'll palpate their pulse with some quick tests for liquidity. Who knows? Maybe we'll still find some signs of life! The current ratio and quick ratio (also called the "acid test" ratio) give us an idea of a company's ability to pay its bills, and the Altman Z-Score suggests companies in danger of bankruptcy. Companies scoring 3.00 and above are considered safe, between 2.70 and 2.99 are "yellow flags," between 1.80 and 2.70 have a good chance of going bankrupt within two years, and those with scores below 1.80 might mean that the cryptkeeper is waiting.

Here's today's list. Already burdened by one-star CAPS ratings, are these companies only mostly dead, or have they already given up the ghost?


Current Ratio

Acid-Test Ratio

Altman Z-Score

Recent Price

Origin Agritech (NASDAQ:SEED)





Lexmark International (NYSE:LXK)





Macerich (NYSE:MAC)





Marriott International (NYSE:MAR)





Valassis Communications (NYSE:VCI)





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

We obviously don't know whether these companies are headed six feet under, so don't short them based on their appearance here. Moreover, some companies, like software makers and financials, don't neatly fit into the Altman Z-Score scale. We'll use the CAPS community as our Charon-like guide across the River Styx, in hopes of determining whether these stocks are destined to seriously underperform the market.

Whistling past the graveyard
A short case can be made for Chinese seed maker Origin Agritech. But now that it's gotten the green light from the Chinese government to market its genetically modified corn seed, the company seems unlikely to go out of business anytime soon. I just wouldn't expect shares to keep outperforming.

Roughly 40.8% of the CAPS members rating the stock believe it will underperform the broader market averages. But kleio bucks that trend, arguing that Origin has a leg up on rivals like Monsanto (NYSE:MON):

This company genetically modifies feed for mainly corn and rice. Staple for China. Gov will likely approve locally modified seeds vs. those of Cargill.

Moreover, the European Union, which hasn't exactly been friendly toward genetically modified foods, recently approved Syngenta's (NYSE:SYT) GMO maize seed. Although Origin Agritech sells its seeds wholly in the Chinese market, if the EU begins to approve more GMO goods, it could end up giving Origin a new market to target.

As I noted in my own bearish CAPS pitch last month, China has a lot of excess seed inventory to work through. New opportunities abroad might just help it accomplish that.

Rattling the cage
Are these companies doomed to drag their investors into an underworld of underperformance? Or will they be resurrected to stalk the markets once again? It pays to start your own research on these stocks on Motley Fool CAPS. Read a company's financial reports, scrutinize key data and charts, and examine the comments your fellow investors have made all from a stock's CAPS page. Sign up today, absolutely free, and let us know whether you think the Grim Reaper's at the door.

Syngenta is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Monsanto is one from Global Gains. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial interest in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy remains vibrant and full of life.