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 TRW Automotive 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 TRW Automotive.
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%
3 out of 10
Source: S&P Capital IQ. Total score = number of passes.
Since we looked at TRW Automotive last year, the company has kept its three-point score. But the stock hasn't disappointed shareholders, with a stellar rise of nearly 70% over the past year.
TRW makes electronic safety systems for automobiles, including adaptive cruise control that allows drivers to maintain safe trailing distances rather than having to brake when cars slow down ahead. The company supplies parts to more than 40 manufacturers around the world.
Coming into 2012, TRW had severely disappointed investors. But that all changed this year, as the stock rebounded from its 40% loss in 2011. TRW got things off on the right foot in February by posting record sales to close out the fiscal 2011 year, and it steadily paid down debt to get its balance sheet in better order.
TRW does have to deal with competitive pressures, though. On the safety side of its business, TRW goes up against Autoliv and its big presence in seat belts and airbags. Meanwhile, TRW's auto components face competition from Illinois Tool Works , Delphi, and a host of other parts makers. Even in a low-margin business, though, TRW holds its own against the competition.
A couple of months ago, TRW announced a big share buyback, bolstering confidence that the company's European exposure might not give investors more headaches down the road. Despite the fact that Ford and General Motors have suffered substantial losses in Europe, TRW clearly believed that its shares were an absolute bargain at just six times earnings, and that call has proven correct, at least in the short run.
For TRW to improve, it needs to keep bringing debt levels down, and work on trying to bolster growth. In a cutthroat industry, though, it'll take a long time before TRW can approach perfection.
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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The article Has TRW Automotive 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 Ford. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Autoliv, Ford, General Motors, and Illinois Tool Works. 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.
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