Is Wal-Mart a Stock for the Long Term?

Being able to retire rich, or at least comfortable, is the goal of almost any investor. However, it's much easier said than done. In a recent Wells Fargo survey, respondents between the ages of 50-59 said that they had, on average, about $29,000 saved up. With pensions all but gone, and social security targeted for cuts in the future, it's hard to count on anyone but yourself. But $29,000 isn't going to cut it for most people, so you've got to get involved in the stock market in order to grow that nest egg. Getting in the game is the easy part; choosing the right stocks is the hard part.

Making prudent decisions
Generally speaking, I look for four traits in a retirement stock:

  1. Valuation: Investors of all ages want to make sure they're not overpaying for a stock, but this matters even more in retirement. Retirees don't have the long time horizon that younger investors have, so it's essential to make sure you don't overpay in the short term.
  2. Dividends: Most retirees need a combination of both growth and income, as they'll be depending more and more on their portfolio to help with everyday expenses. Companies that pay dividends not only offer immediate income, but they've also proven to outperform non-paying dividend companies over long periods of time.
  3. Growth: Investors love dividends, but everyone wants to see their stocks rise over time. Growth can be as big a part of your portfolio as a steady dividend. It's important to note that you don't need a high-flying stock that's going to shoot to the moon; a company that can grow and outperform the market is hard enough to find, so steady growth is highly covetable.
  4. Low volatility: Retirees want to invest in great growth stocks just as much as anyone else, but they also want to be able to rest well knowing that their portfolio won't be taking them on a rollercoaster ride. At the end of the day, most retirees would rather own a sturdy company that lets them sleep at night than a company that whips up and down with the gyrations of the market.

So how does Wal-Mart stack up?
In order to check out the valuation of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , we don't want to look at only its P/E ratio of 13.5. That may seem cheap, but really we don't know without looking at the ratio in historical context. Over the last five years, Wal-Mart's average P/E ratio has been 15.7, which is greater than the current ratio. This suggests that investors could be seeing an opportunity to buy Wal-Mart on the cheap right now.

Wal-Mart's dividend is 2.2%. This is tremendous; not only does Wal-Mart pay a dividend, but it pays more than the average company in the S&P 500.

Next, we want to ensure that Wal-Mart's stock has the ability to rise over the next five, 10, or 20 years. A company that's growing its net income has the best possible chance to see its share price rise over time. Of course, we can't predict the future, but we can look back to get an idea of how the company has performed in the past in order to try to ensure future earnings growth. Over the past five years, Wal-Mart has grown its net income by 6.9%. Fortunately, Wal-Mart has been able to grow its earnings over the past five years, and that's pretty significant considering all of the market turmoil in the last few years. Of course, this doesn't mean that growth will continue, but it's a great sign that the company can prosper in the face of difficulty.

One of the best measures of volatility is called beta. Beta measures the impact that the movement of the stock market will have on a particular stock. For instance, a beta of 1.0 signifies that Wal-Mart will move in tandem with the market; a beta of 2.0 means that the stock will move up twice as much as the general market, and vice versa. In this particular case, Wal-Mart has a beta of 0.5, which is pretty low. Generally speaking, I like to see a beta below 1.2 for retirees. In this case, Wal-Mart fits the bill.

Let's look at the competition
We've taken a look at Wal-Mart, and maybe you think it's passed all the tests, or maybe you just don't feel comfortable with the results. Either way, it's beneficial to see how a company stacks up in its industry, because it's just as important to understand a company's competitors as it to understand that particular company. Here are Wal-Mart's stats when compared to three of its closest competitors:

Company

Current P/E

Dividend Yield

5-Year Net Income Growth

1-Year Beta

Wal-Mart 13.5 2.2% 6.9% 0.5
Costco Wholesale (Nasdaq: COST  ) 24.7 1.1% 4.4% 0.7
Target (NYSE: TGT  ) 14.1 1.9% 4.2% 0.7
Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) 73.8 N/A 26.2% 1.3

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. N/A = not applicable.

Each company has traits to like and traits left to be desired. Either way, it's beneficial to look at the industry picture and not just Wal-Mart in isolation.

Of course, I can't decide for you whether or not this is the best stock for retirement, but it has passed all four tests, which is pretty impressive. It doesn't necessarily mean this stock is a slam dunk, but it has shown its ability to reward shareholders and that means it could have a place in your portfolio.

Interested in adding any of the companies above to your watchlist? Click below to get the latest commentary and analysis.

Jordan DiPietro owns no shares. Costco and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Amazon.com and Costco are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Global Gains choice. The Fool owns shares of Costco, and Wal-Mart. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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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  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2011, at 2:18 PM, Borbality wrote:

    great story. I like WMT and hope to hold and add for a really long ass time.

    Of course I'm a little annoyed at the recent drop, but it seemed cheap to begin with.

    Also should mention the very low Dividend Payout ratio (about 30% i think) and opportunities to grow overseas. Good emerging markets exposure.

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