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Will Sprint Nextel Help You Retire Rich?

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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.

Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) has come a long way over the years. Since its beginning as a rival long-distance provider to the much better-known AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and MCI, Sprint has reinvented itself as a major mobile network. Yet for a long time, Sprint was on the outside looking in, as AT&T and later Verizon's (NYSE: VZ  ) wireless segment got access to the much-loved iPhone product line before Sprint did. Now that Sprint iPhones are available, can the company finally get its big chip off its shoulder and muscle its way to success? Below, we'll take a look at how Sprint Nextel 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 Sprint Nextel.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $8.54 billion Fail
Consistency Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years 2 years Fail
  Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years 1 year Fail
Stock stability Beta < 0.9 1.07 Fail
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (86.1%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 NM NM
Dividends Current yield > 2% 0% Fail
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 0% Fail
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years NM NM
  Payout ratio < 75% NM NM
       
  Total score   0 out of 7

Source: S&P Capital IQ. NM = not meaningful; Sprint Nextel had negative earnings over the past year and doesn't pay a dividend. Total score = number of passes.

With no points, Sprint Nextel doesn't have any of the comforting traits that conservative investors like to see in a stock. As a highly speculative play, the company is prone to wild swings and hasn't performed well at all in recent years.

In the fast-evolving world of smartphones and mobile devices, Sprint found itself caught in a catch-22. On one hand, not having the iPhone to sell hurt its customer counts. Yet as the company has discovered, having the iPhone raised subscriber counts, but at the huge price of throttling its margins as huge subsidies could eventually threaten its profitability. In fact, at least one analyst believes that a bankruptcy filing might be in Sprint's future if it doesn't get its future strategy straight.

Another problem is that Sprint hasn't navigated evolving network trends as well as it could have. On one hand, Sprint was first to the 4G finish line with Clearwire's (Nasdaq: CLWR  ) WiMAX network. But as the competing LTE technology has gained favor, Sprint has had to look for alternatives to Clearwire -- and its first choice, LightSquared, hasn't had the success Sprint had hoped for.

For whatever reason, Sprint continually appears as a potential buyer for its competitors. Before AT&T's bid for T-Mobile, many thought Sprint would try to combine with T-Mobile to stand up to the big two players in the U.S. industry. More recently, Sprint reportedly considered buying out MetroPCS (NYSE: PCS  ) , and others think Leap Wireless might also make a good target. Yet critics believe the company should stop looking at spending yet more money on dubious takeovers and instead focus on keeping up with its rivals on the service end.

For retirees and other conservative investors, the uncertainties involved with Sprint make it an unsuitable stock. It's true that if Sprint can manufacture a turnaround, the stock could soar. But with no dividend income, no growth, and big share-price losses in recent years, Sprint isn't the best choice for a retirement portfolio.

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.

If you really want to retire rich, no one 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.

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

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. 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.


Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2012, at 7:21 PM, Aryabod wrote:

    The possibility of Bankruptcy can be assigned to almost every company on the planet. Did you forget Apple, Amazon and Ford, three darlings of Walls Street, were also being trashed for mismanagement and likely Bankruptcy?

    If you had the prescience and tenacity to hold on to these stocks while many analysts promulgated their negative opinions you would have enough money to retire on for generations to come.

    Sprint ended Q4 2011 with $5.9 billion in cash and in Q1 2012 had little difficulty in raising an extra $2 billion, to leave it with a total of $7.9 billion in cash and a $1.1 billion Revolving Line. In a recent development mgmt. appears to have negotiated $3 billion in Vendor financing to upgrade its Network. Upon completion the company is slated to save $11 billion, from greater efficiencies, substantial reduction of its tower count and elimination of a lot of its roaming charges.

    This Quarter Sprint is expected to launch the first of its LTE networks and numerous LTE devices and by the end of the year they should have at least 120 million POPS of available LTE. The following year are expected to have north of 277 million POPS of FD LTE, not including Clearwire's TD LTE.

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Dan Caplinger
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Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on Fool.com. With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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