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 Costco Wholesale (NAS: COST) 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 Costco.
What We Want to See
Pass or Fail?
5-Year Annual Revenue Growth > 15%
1-Year Revenue Growth > 12%
Gross Margin > 35%
Net Margin > 15%
Debt to Equity < 50%
Current Ratio > 1.3
Return on Equity > 15%
Normalized P/E < 20
Current Yield > 2%
5-Year Dividend Growth > 10%
2 out of 10
Source: S&P Capital IQ. Total score = number of passes.
Since we looked at Costco last year, the company gave back the point it picked up between 2010 and 2011. Revenue growth slowed slightly, but that didn't stop the stock from posting a gain of about 15% over the past year.
Costco has turned the warehouse retail model into a huge success story over the decades. With even traditionally successful big-box retailers Best Buy (NYS: BBY) and Staples (NAS: SPLS) running into big problems due to competition from online giant Amazon.com (NAS: AMZN) , Costco largely avoids the same issues by keeping margins razor-thin and by selling bulk quantities that are in many cases impractical to ship.
Because of its retail strength, Costco is able to make mutually beneficial agreements with suppliers. For instance, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NAS: GMCR) entered into a deal earlier this month with Costco to provide coffee for its Kirkland Signature store brand. The deal will have Green Mountain making K-Cups for use in its Keurig single-cup brewer, potentially helping the coffee company break out of its recent tumble.
Still, not everything is perfect for Costco. It underperformed its projections for same-store sales gains during the summer, and economic woes could lead to shoppers cutting back.
After its most recent quarterly report, though, Costco hit an all-time high. Its 86% membership retention rate even with recent price increases for annual memberships shows its strength, especially given that membership-fee revenue accounts for 75% to 80% of operating profits.
With its emphasis on low prices, Costco will never reach perfection on this 10-point scale. But if the economy improves, Costco should improve along with it.
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 the best investments from the rest.
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The article Has Costco Become the Perfect Stock? originally appeared on Fool.com.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Best Buy, Costco, and Staples, as well as having options positions on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Amazon.com, Best Buy, Costco, Green Mountain, and Staples. 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.