Is Liz Claiborne the Perfect Stock?

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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 Liz Claiborne (NYS: LIZ) 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 Liz Claiborne.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Growth5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15%(19.5%)Fail
 1-Year Revenue Growth > 12%(6.4%)Fail
MarginsGross Margin > 35%53.3%Pass
 Net Margin > 15%(11.3%)Fail
Balance SheetDebt to Equity < 50%NMNM
 Current Ratio > 1.31.29Fail
OpportunitiesReturn on Equity > 15%NMNM
ValuationNormalized P/E < 20NMNM
DividendsCurrent Yield > 2%0.0%Fail
 5-Year Dividend Growth > 10%0.0%Fail
    
 Total Score 1 out of 7

Source: S&P Capital IQ. NM = not meaningful due to negative earnings and shareholder equity. Total score = number of passes.

With only a single point, Liz Claiborne isn't anywhere near perfection. The company is taking a big gamble on remaking itself, and there's a lot on the line for its future.

Historically, Liz Claiborne aimed itself at baby boomer women, a retail segment that's been fraught with peril in recent years. Just as Talbots (NYS: TLB) went through a long attempt to turn the company around -- one that has thus far failed -- so too did Liz Claiborne fail to jump onto the trends that vaulted competitor Chico's (NYS: CHS) and other peers to more successful results.

But more recently, Liz Claiborne has sought to reinvent itself. Planning to rename itself Fifth & Pacific, the company sold its arguably best-known Liz Claiborne and Monet brands to JC Penney (NYS: JCP) , retaining Kate Spade, Juicy Couture, and Lucky to appeal to a more youthful audience.

That move has borne some fruit, at least early on. Earlier this week, Liz Claiborne announced a 29% drop in adjusted earnings per share that matched analyst expectations, but two of its three brands posted strong sales gains. The shares vaulted upward more than 13% in response.

For Liz Claiborne to make further progress, it needs to keep executing on its turnaround story. In the fickle world of fashion, the company can only hope that its big decision turns out to be the right one.

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.

Liz Claiborne may not be a perfect stock, but we've got some ideas you may like better. Let me invite you to learn about three smart long-term stock plays in the Fool's latest special report. It's yours for the taking and is absolutely free, but don't miss out -- click here and read it today.

Click here to add Liz Claiborne to My Watchlist, which can find all of our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Copyright © 1995 - 2012 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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