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.
Manulife Financial (NYSE: MFC ) isn't a household name in the U.S., but it has a big presence both here and around the world. Headquartered in Canada, the company has a big international business in Asia and operates under the John Hancock name. With insurance companies having had a tough time in recent years, though, has Manulife's Canadian home sheltered it from the worst of the financial crisis? Below, we'll take a look at how Manulife Financial 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 Manulife Financial.
What We Want to See
Pass or Fail?
|Size||Market cap > $10 billion||$24.5 billion||Pass|
|Consistency||Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years||3 years||Fail|
|Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years||2 years||Fail|
|Stock stability||Beta < 0.9||1.41||Fail|
|Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20%||(57.5%)||Fail|
|Valuation||Normalized P/E < 18||18.28||Fail|
|Dividends||Current yield > 2%||3.9%||Pass|
|5-year dividend growth > 10%||(5.1%)||Fail|
|Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years||0 years||Fail|
|Payout ratio < 75%||20.9%||Pass|
|Total score||3 out of 10|
Source: S&P Capital IQ. Total score = number of passes.
With only three points, Manulife Financial doesn't have the traits that conservative investors like to see in a stock. The insurer suffered through a dividend cut and a big drop in share price three years ago, and it really hasn't recovered much from that experience.
Manulife sells life insurance and annuity products, and those offerings have hurt the company's results. During the market meltdown, Manulife and peers Lincoln National (NYSE: LNC ) and Hartford Financial (NYSE: HIG ) took big losses in part because of guarantees they had made on their annuity products against risk of loss. Similar problems arose in its long-term care insurance offerings. In response, Manulife has asked for rate increases on long-term care insurance premiums to bolster its profits.
One area where Manulife has done well is in its fixed-income mutual fund offerings. The company grew its assets in the sector by 87% over the past year. Along with funds from Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) , T. Rowe Price (Nasdaq: TROW ) , and many others, Manulife's John Hancock won a number of honors at the prestigious Lipper Fund Awards announced earlier this month.
For retirees and other conservative investors, the big black mark against Manulife is its lagging share price and stagnant dividend. Manulife needs to get back on the growth track in order to reassure investors that the stock belongs in their retirement portfolios.
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.
If you really want to retire rich, no single stock will get the job done. Instead, you need to know how to prepare for your golden years. The Motley Fool's latest special report will give you all the details you need to get a smart investing plan going, plus it reveals three smart stocks for a rich retirement. But don't waste another minute -- click here and read it today.
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