Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV), United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL): Has Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL) Become the Perfect Stock?

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 Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE:DAL) fits the bill.

Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE:DAL),

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 Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE:DAL).

Factor What We Want to See Actual Pass or Fail?
Growth 5-year annual revenue growth > 15% 13.9% Fail
1-year revenue growth > 12% 4.4% Fail
Margins Gross margin > 35% 20.0% Fail
Net margin > 15% 2.8% Fail
Balance sheet Debt to equity < 50% NM NM
Current ratio > 1.3 0.62 Fail
Opportunities Return on equity > 15% NM NM
Valuation Normalized P/E < 20 14.61 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 0.0% Fail
5-year dividend growth > 10% 0.0% Fail
Total score 1 out of 8

Source: S&P Capital IQ. NM = not meaningful due to negative shareholder equity. Total score = number of passes.

Since we looked at Delta Air Lines last year, the company hasn’t been able to regain the two points it lost from 2011 to 2012. Yet despite continuing to have negative shareholder equity, the stock has soared 75% over the past year.