Has BHP Billiton Limited (ADR) (BHP) Become the Perfect Stock? – Rio Tinto plc (ADR) (RIO), Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. (FCX)

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 BHP Billiton Limited (ADR) (NYSE:BHP) 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 BHP Billiton Limited (ADR) (NYSE:BHP).

Factor What We Want to See Actual Pass or Fail?
Growth 5-year annual revenue growth > 15% 5.4% Fail
1-year revenue growth > 12% (10.8%) Fail
Margins Gross margin > 35% 76.2% Pass
Net margin > 15% 14.3% Fail
Balance sheet Debt to equity < 50% 52% Fail
Current ratio > 1.3 1.13 Fail
Opportunities Return on equity > 15% 14.6% Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 14.51 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 3.1% Pass
5-year dividend growth > 10% 15.3% Pass
Total score 4 out of 10

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

Since we looked at BHP Billiton last year, the company has plunged by four points, with falling revenue, net margins, and returns on equity combining with a rising debt-to-equity ratio. The stock hasn’t performed nearly as badly, but it has still posted a small loss over the past year.

As the world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton has gotten hit especially hard by the drop in demand for the many commodities that it produces. In particular, low prices for iron ore and metallurgical coal were major culprits in the company’s 48% drop in net operating cash flow during the second half of 2012.