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 Mechel (NYSE: MTL) 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 Mechel.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Growth 5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15% 48.3% Pass
  1-Year Revenue Growth > 12% 55% Pass
Margins Gross Margin > 35% 35.8% Pass
  Net Margin > 15% 8.8% Fail
Balance Sheet Debt to Equity < 50% 162% Fail
  Current Ratio > 1.3 1.25 Fail
Opportunities Return on Equity > 15% 22.7% Pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 4.44 Pass
Dividends Current Yield > 2% 2.9% Pass
  5-Year Dividend Growth > 10% (8.4%) Fail
  Total Score   6 out of 10

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

With a score of 6, Mechel seems as though it's doing pretty well. But the coal miner and steelmaker has seen its stock plunge over the past year, and a recent double hit bodes badly for the company's future.

Mechel is an integrated steelmaker that acts somewhat like two companies in one. On one hand, it competes in the same business as Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU) and Patriot Coal (NYSE: PCX) by producing its own metallurgical coal. Yet rather than selling that coal to competing steelmakers like ArcelorMittal (NYSE: MT), the Russian company uses it in its own steel production.

Mechel tops the steel-company list in terms of growth, eclipsing Vale (NYSE: VALE), Steel Dynamics (Nasdaq: STLD), and ArcelorMittal on revenue and earnings growth. But the company has suffered greatly throughout the European sovereign debt crisis, beginning first with the Greek drama and continuing when Italy got into the picture. The crisis raises fears of economic slowdowns throughout Europe that would take away one of Mechel's prime export markets.

The worst news hit earlier this week, when Mechel said that it had to shut down two coal mines for safety concerns. Combined with the ongoing uncertainty in Europe, this caused shares to plunge more than 10%.

Mechel has the potential to be a perfect stock, and at a ridiculously low valuation right now, the time is right for value investors to step forward. But until Europe's situation gets clearer, you're unlikely to see much improvement.

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.