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Is Humana a Stock for the Long Term?

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Being able to retire rich, or at least comfortable, is the goal of almost any investor. However, that's much easier said than done. In a recent Wells Fargo survey, respondents between the ages of 50 and 59 said that they had, on average, about $29,000 saved up. With pensions pretty much 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 have to get involved in the stock market 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 portfolios to help with everyday expenses. Companies that pay dividends not only offer immediate income, but they've also proved to outperform non-paying dividend companies over long periods of time.
  3. Growth: Investors love dividends, but we all want to see our 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 does, but they also want to be able to rest well knowing that their portfolio won't be taking them on a roller-coaster ride. 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.

Although some companies are definitely more geared toward retirees, which companies you choose to invest in will be dictated largely by what you already have in your portfolio. Small, mid-, and large caps can all play a role in your investing strategy, so I've chosen to evaluate all varieties of stocks in this regular series.

So how does Humana stack up?
To check out the valuation of Humana (NYSE: HUM  ) , we don't want to look at only its P/E ratio of 12.2. That may seem cheap, but really we don't know without looking at the ratio in historical context. Over the past five years, Humana's average P/E ratio has been 12.8, which is greater than the current ratio. Investors could be seeing an opportunity to buy Humana on the cheap right now.

Humana's dividend is 1.2%. That might not seem like a whole lot right now, but that dividend has room to grow, so I wouldn't discount its importance. Getting a dividend at all shows a company's dedication to its shareholders, and that's significant.

Next, we want to ensure that Humana's stock has the ability to climb 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, Humana has grown its net income by 33.4% annually. That's pretty significant, considering all of the market turmoil in the past 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 gauges of volatility is beta, which 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 Humana will move in tandem with the market, a beta of 2.0 means that the stock will move up twice as much as the market, so on. In this particular case, Humana has a beta of 0.735, which is pretty low. Generally speaking, I like to see a beta below 1.2 for retirees, and Humana fits the bill.

Let's look at the competition
We've taken a look at Humana, 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 is to understand that particular company. Here are Humana's stats when compared to three of its closest competitors.

Company

Current P/E

Dividend Yield

5-Year Net Income CAGR

1-Year Beta

Humana 12.2 1.2% 33.4% 0.7
CIGNA (NYSE: CI  ) 9.6 0.1% -0.7% 1.1
WellPoint (NYSE: WLP  ) 11.0 1.2% 2.6% 1.2
UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  ) 12.4 1.2% 8.1% 1.0

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

Each company has traits to like and traits that leave something to be desired. Either way, it's beneficial to look at the industry picture and not just Humana 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 of our 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? Get the latest commentary and analysis:

Jordan DiPietro owns no shares of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of UnitedHealth Group and Wells Fargo and has created a ratio put spread position on Wells Fargo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint and creating a diagonal call position in UnitedHealth Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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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