Is Flowers Foods the Right Stock to Retire With?

Now more than ever, a comfortable retirement depends on secure, stable investments. Unfortunately, the right stocks for retirement won't just fall into your lap. In this series, I look at 10 measures to show what makes a great retirement-oriented stock.

Nothing's yummier than something from the bakery, and that appeal is what has generated strong profits for Flowers Foods (NYSE: FLO  ) for years. But recent challenges in the form of higher input costs has the bread-maker feeling a little bit stale. Below, we'll look at how Flowers Foods does on our 10-point scale.

The right stocks for retirees
With decades to go before you need to tap your investments, you can take greater risks, weighing the chance of big losses against the potential for mind-blowing returns. But as retirement approaches, you no longer have the luxury of waiting out a downturn.

Sure, you still want good returns, but you also need to manage your risk and protect yourself against bear markets, which can maul your finances at the worst possible time. The right stocks combine both of these elements in a single investment.

When scrutinizing a stock, retirees should look for:

  • Size. Most retirees would rather not take a flyer on unproven businesses. Bigger companies may lack their smaller counterparts' growth potential, but they do offer greater security.
  • Consistency. While many investors look for fast-growing companies, conservative investors want to see steady, consistent gains in revenue, free cash flow, and other key metrics. Slow growth won't make headlines, but it will help prevent the kind of ugly surprises that suddenly torpedo a stock's share price.
  • Stock stability. Conservative retirement investors prefer investments that move less dramatically than typical stocks, and they particularly want to avoid big losses. These investments will give up some gains during bull markets, but they won't fall as far or as fast during bear markets. Beta measures volatility, but we also want a track record of solid performance as well.
  • Valuation. No one can afford to pay too much for a stock, even if its prospects are good. Using normalized earnings multiples helps smooth out one-time effects, giving you a longer-term context.
  • Dividends. Most of all, retirees look for stocks that can provide income through dividends. Retirees want healthy payouts now and consistent dividend growth over time -- as long as it doesn't jeopardize the company's financial health.

With those factors in mind, let's take a closer look at Flowers Foods.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $2.66 billion Fail
Consistency Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years 4 years Pass
  Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years 3 years Fail
Stock stability Beta < 0.9 0.18 Pass
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (0.4%) Pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 20.16 Fail
Dividends Current yield > 2% 3.1% Pass
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 23.8% Pass
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 10 years Pass
  Payout ratio < 75% 56.8% Pass
       
  Total score   7 out of 10

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

With seven points, Flowers Foods gives conservative investors much of what they like to see in a stock. It's a small stock, but it's in a stable industry that has rewarded shareholders with minimal volatility and healthy dividends.

Flowers makes bakery products for distribution in grocery stores as well as wholesale foodservice companies. That has been a challenging segment lately, as higher food costs have hamstrung the entire industry. Kraft (NYSE: KFT  ) , General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) , and ConAgra (NYSE: CAG  ) have all cited higher input costs as problematic for their earnings, and Flowers had to rein in guidance back in August, sending shares tumbling.

But what keeps Flowers in good graces among investors is its dividend. Flowers doesn't have the highest yield in the industry, but its long term dividend growth is at the top of its peer group, easily beating out JM Smucker (NYSE: SJM  ) , Kellogg (NYSE: K  ) , and Heinz (NYSE: HNZ  ) .

The one thing that should make retirees and other conservative investors balk about Flowers is its somewhat rich valuation. However, in exchange for the stability that consumer-staples stocks bring during troubled economic times, Flowers shares may be worth paying up for. At the very least, Flowers deserves consideration for retirement portfolios.

Keep searching
Finding exactly the right stock to retire with is a tough task, but it's not impossible. Searching for the best candidates will help improve your investing skills, and teach you how to separate the right stocks from the risky ones.

Add Flowers Foods to My Watchlist, which will aggregate our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.

If you want to retire rich, you need to be confident that you've got the basics of your investment strategy down pat. See if you're on track by following the 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of HJ Heinz, Kellogg, and Flowers Foods. 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 Fool has a disclosure policy.

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