Money Matters - Simplified

Should You Sell Noble Right Now?

 Should you sell Noble (NYSE: NE) today? The decision to sell a stock you've researched and followed for months or years is never easy. But if you fall in love with your stock holdings, you risk becoming vulnerable to confirmation bias -- listening only to information that supports your theories, and rejecting any contradictions.

 

 In 2004, longtime Fool Bill Mann called confirmation bias one of the most dangerous components of investing. This warning has helped my own investing throughout the Great Recession. Now I want to help you identify potential sell signs on popular stocks within our 4-million-strong Fool.com community.

Today I'm laser-focused on Noble, ready to evaluate its price, valuation, margins, and liquidity. Let's get started!

Don't sell on price
Over the past 12 months, Noble is down by 14.6% versus an S&P 500 return of 11.3%.  Investors are no doubt disappointed with their returns, but is now the time to cut and run? Not necessarily. Short-term underperformance alone is not a sell sign. The market may be missing the critical element of your investing thesis. For historical context, let's compare Noble's recent price with its 52-week and five-year highs. I've also included a few other businesses in the same industry or a related one.

Company

Recent Price

52-Week High

5-Year High

Noble $35.61 $45.60 $69.00
Diamond Offshore Drilling (NYSE: DO) $68.34 $107.12 $149.30
Ensco (NYSE: ESV) $48.90 $52.32 $83.20
Transocean (NYSE: RIG) $68.15 $94.88 $163.00

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

As you can see, Noble is down from its 52-week high. If you bought near the peak, now's the time to think back to why you bought it in the first place. If your reasons still hold true, you shouldn't sell based on this information alone.

Potential sell signs
First up, we'll get a rough idea of Noble's valuation. I'm comparing Noble's recent P/E ratio of 8.4 with where it's been over the past five years. 


 Noble's P/E is lower than its five-year average, a possible indication that the stock is undervalued. A low P/E isn't always a good sign, since the market may be lowering its valuation of the company because of less attractive growth prospects. But it does indicate that, on a purely historical basis, Noble looks cheap.

Now let's look at the gross-margin trend, which represents the amount of profit a company makes for each $1 in sales, after deducting all costs directly related to that sale. A deteriorating gross margin over time can indicate that competition has forced the company to lower prices, that it can't control costs, or that its whole industry's facing tough times. Here's Noble's gross margin over the past five years.


 Noble has been able to grow its gross margin, which tends to dictate a company's overall profitability. That's great news; however, investors need to keep an eye on this metric over the coming quarters. If margins begin to dip, you'll want to know why.

Next, let's explore what other investors think about Noble. We love the contrarian view here at Fool.com, but we don't mind cheating off our neighbors every once in a while. For this portion of our research, we'll examine two metrics: Motley Fool CAPS ratings and short interest. The former tells us how Fool.com's 170,000-strong community of individual analysts rates the stock, and the latter shows what proportion of investors is betting that the stock will fall. I'm including other peer companies once again for context.

Company

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Short Interest (% of Float)

Noble 5 2.5
Diamond Offshore Drilling 4 20.0
Ensco 4 4.2
Transocean 5 2.6

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

The Fool community is rather bullish on Noble. We typically like to see our stocks rated at four or five stars. Anything below that level is a less-than-bullish indicator. I highly recommend that you visit Noble's stock-pitch page to see the verbatim reasons behind the ratings.

Here, short interest is at a mere 2.5%. A number like this typically indicates that few large institutional investors are betting against the stock.

Now let's study Noble's debt situation, with a little help from the debt-to-equity ratio. This metric tells us how much debt the company's taken on, relative to its overall capital structure.


 Noble's total debt is around its five-year average. With total equity increasing over the same time period, debt-to-equity has consequently decreased, as the above chart shows. Based on the trend alone, that's a good sign. I consider a debt-to-equity ratio below 50% to be healthy, though the number varies by industry. Noble is currently below this level, at 39.0%.

The last metric I like to look at is the current ratio, which lets investors judge a company's short-term liquidity. If Noble had to convert its current assets to cash in one year, how many times over could it cover its current liabilities? As of the last filing, the company had a current ratio of 1.68. That's a healthy sign. I like to see companies with current ratios equal to or greater than 1.5.

Finally, it's highly beneficial to determine whether Noble belongs in your portfolio -- and to know how many similar businesses already occupy your stable of investments. If you haven't already, be sure to put your tickers into Fool.com's free portfolio tracker, My Watchlist. You can get started right away by adding Noble.

© 2010 UCLICK L.L.C.