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 and then decide whether TAL International 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.
Moneymaking 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 TAL International.
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%
7 out of 10
Source: S&P Capital IQ. Total score = number of passes.
Since we looked at TAL International last year, the company has dropped a point, as its balance sheet condition deteriorated slightly. The stock, though, has avoided that loss, rising about 10% over the past year.
The shipping industry has been a disaster for investors in recent years. Across the industry, a glut of vessels and a slow global economy have sent dry-bulk carrier Diana Shipping , tanker company Frontline , and most of their respective peers down sharply as they struggle to survive low shipping rates and huge competition for a dwindling amount of business. The booming energy industry in the U.S. has also reduced the need for imported oil, taking away a major component of shipping demand. DryShips even had to pay a "buyer" recently to take a couple of vessels in construction off its hands.
But for shipping investors seeking a profitable alternative to vessel owners, TAL has tapped into a lucrative niche in the shipping industry: intermodal containers. The company leases containers worldwide, helping shippers avoiding the capital expense of buying their own containers.
That business produced some strong results in TAL's most recent quarter, as the company reported a 12% year-over-year increase in leasing revenues while making substantial investments in new container purchases. TAL also boosted its dividend by 3%, which was the fifth straight quarterly increase.
Yet the stock took a hit recently when TAL reported that several of its major shareholders will sell more than 4 million shares in a secondary offering. With the three selling shareholders completely eliminating their stake in the company, investors have to wonder if they've lost confidence in TAL or whether the sale just represents a normal exit by private equity investors.
For TAL to improve, it needs to start working on getting its balance sheet in order. With the shares valued cheaply and with a huge dividend yield, TAL stands a much better chance than most shipping-related stocks of progressing toward perfection in the years ahead.
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 TAL International Become the Perfect Stock? originally appeared on Fool.com.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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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