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.
Recently, health care has come to the forefront of national attention, as various attempts at reform work their way through the system. That has raised questions about how companies like Cardinal Health (NYSE: CAH ) will respond to the inevitable changes. Below, we'll take a look at how Cardinal Health 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 Cardinal Health.
What We Want to See
Pass or Fail?
|Size||Market cap > $10 billion||$14.3 billion||Pass|
|Consistency||Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years||5 years||Pass|
|Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years||2 years||Fail|
|Stock stability||Beta < 0.9||0.75||Pass|
|Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20%||(39.6%)||Fail|
|Valuation||Normalized P/E < 18||15.87||Pass|
|Dividends||Current yield > 2%||2%||Pass|
|5-year dividend growth > 10%||24.3%||Pass|
|Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years||22 years||Pass|
|Payout ratio < 75%||28.6%||Pass|
|Total score||8 out of 10|
Source: S&P Capital IQ. Total score = number of passes.
With eight points, Cardinal Health gives conservative investors most of the favorable characteristics they like from stocks. Free cash flow has gone on a roller-coaster ride lately, but the company's share price has recovered significantly from its steep losses during the financial crisis.
Cardinal Health is part of a small group of companies that dominate the wholesale drug distribution business. Along with AmerisourceBergen (NYSE: ABC ) and McKesson (NYSE: MCK ) , Cardinal sells pharmaceuticals to hospitals, nursing homes, and other health-care providers, as well as to drugstores and other retail sellers.
But Cardinal isn't resting on its laurels. It sees a big opportunity in specialty drugs, which are expected to see huge increases in sales in coming years. For instance, Cardinal's P4 Healthcare business led to a big contract with Aetna (NYSE: AET ) to offer cancer-related services to member doctors in several states. Also, Cardinal is working to cut costs, as a collaboration with Omnicell (Nasdaq: OMCL ) could help make its automated drug-dispensing cabinets more cost-effective.
Retirees and other conservative investors have to be pleased with Cardinal's two-decade record of steadily increasing its dividend. Despite the risks of health-care reform, Cardinal seems to be in a good position to weather the storm and even take advantage of changes in the industry. That resilience makes Cardinal worth considering for your retirement portfolio.
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.
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