Everyone would love to find the perfect stock. But will you ever really find a stock that gives you everything you could possibly want?

One thing's for sure: If you don't look, you'll never find truly great investments. So let's first take a look at what you'd want to see from a perfect stock, and then decide if Cosan (NYSE: CZZ) fits the bill.

The quest for perfection
When you're looking for great stocks, you have to do your due diligence. It's not enough to rely on a single measure, because a stock that looks great based on one factor may turn out to be horrible in other ways. The best stocks, however, excel in many different areas, which all come together to make up a very attractive picture.

Some of the most basic yet important things to look for in a stock are:

  • 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 don't mean anything if a company can't turn them into profits. Strong margins ensure a company is able to turn revenue into profit.
  • Balance sheet. Debt-laden companies have banks and bondholders competing with shareholders for management's attention. Companies with strong balance sheets don't have to worry about the distraction of debt.
  • Money-making opportunities. Companies need to be able to turn their resources into profitable business opportunities. Return on equity helps measure how well a company is finding those opportunities.
  • Valuation. You can't afford to pay too much for even the best companies. Earnings multiples are simple, but using normalized figures gives you a sense of how valuation fits into a longer-term context.
  • Dividends. Investors are demanding tangible proof of profits, and there's nothing more tangible than getting a check every three months. 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 Cosan.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 53.3% pass
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 161.5% pass
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 13.3% fail
  Net Margin > 15% 3.1% fail
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 173.6% fail
  Current Ratio > 1.3 1.74 pass
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% 16.8% pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 10.39 pass
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 2.1% pass
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% NM pass
  Total Score   7 out of 10

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's. NM = not meaningful; Cosan just initiated its dividend in Aug. 2010. Total score = number of passes.

With a score of 7, Cosan may not be perfect, but it's quite attractive. This company finds itself in the right place at the right time.

Based in Brazil, Cosan has an interesting blend of businesses. It's the third-largest sugar producer in the world, and it makes refined sugar, sugar syrup, and specialty products like icing sugar. Like compatriots Brasil Foods (NYSE: BRFS) and AmBev (NYSE: ABV), Cosan taps into the Brazilian consumer segment that many see poised to skyrocket.

At the same time, Cosan also produces sugar-based ethanol. As the world's fifth-largest ethanol producer, it entered into a joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A) to help bring the green-energy fuel to the global market.

Despite its young history, Cosan has done a lot of things right. Despite its fast growth, it trades at a reasonable valuation, and even started paying dividends two months ago. Margins in this commodity business will never be high, but if Cosan can work on cutting its debt level, it could just be as close to perfect as you need a stock to be.

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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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.