Has TAL International Group, Inc. (TAL) Become 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 and then decide whether TAL International Group, Inc. (NYSE:TAL) 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:

1). 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.

2). Margins. Higher sales mean nothing if a company can’t produce profits from them. Strong margins ensure that company can turn revenue into profit.

3). 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.

Diana Shipping Inc. (NYSE:DSX)4). Moneymaking opportunities. Return on equity helps measure how well a company is finding opportunities to turn its resources into profitable business endeavors.

5). 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.

6). 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.

Factor What We Want to See Actual Pass or Fail?
Growth 5-year annual revenue growth > 15% 11.4% Fail
1-year revenue growth > 12% 14% Pass
Margins Gross margin > 35% 86.7% Pass
Net margin > 15% 22.1% Pass
Balance sheet Debt to equity < 50% 428.4% Fail
Current ratio > 1.3 0.64 Fail
Opportunities Return on equity > 15% 22.1% Pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 11.41 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 6% Pass
5-year dividend growth > 10% 10.4% Pass
Total score 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 Inc. (NYSE:DSX), tanker company Frontline Ltd. (NYSE:FRO) , 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 Inc. (NASDAQ:DRYS) even had to pay a “buyer” recently to take a couple of vessels in construction off its hands.

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