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 Tata Motors (NYSE: TTM) 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 Tata Motors.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 36.9% Pass
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 24.0% Pass
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 30.9% Fail
  Net Margin > 15% 6.5% Fail
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 187.3% Fail
  Current Ratio > 1.3 1.19 Fail
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% 49.8% Pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 8.31 Pass
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 2.1% Pass
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% 9.6% Fail
  Total Score   5 out of 10

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

Since we looked at Tata Motors last year, the Indian auto company has picked up a point. But long-term investors aren't happy about the reason: The stock's big drop was largely what helped push the company's dividend yield above the 2% level.

Tata is best known for making the world's cheapest car. With its home-field advantage in one of the largest emerging markets in the world, Tata would seemingly have the inside track to profit from the up-and-coming middle class in India.

But Tata faces a couple of large threats. On one hand, India's macroeconomic picture isn't cooperating, as growth slows on the subcontinent. At the same time, though, competition has gotten more fierce, as Ford (NYSE: F), Toyota (NYSE: TM), and General Motors (NYSE: GM) have all turned to India as a potential growth market. More recently, flooding in Thailand forced Tata to shut down a pickup plant there, although its problems don't appear as severe as what Honda (NYSE: HMC) suffered.

What may be Tata's biggest opportunities going forward, though, are its Land Rover and Jaguar models. Like upstart Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA), these luxury brands aim at more affluent buyers who aren't as vulnerable to the whims of the economy. If Tata can use those brands to improve net margins and start getting some of its debt off its balance sheet, then it could get a lot closer to perfection in the years ahead.

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.