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.
There are many companies whose products you don't usually realize you use on a daily basis. One of those companies is Bemis (NYSE: BMS ) , which makes packaging for food, health-care, and other consumer products. But with some industry headwinds, Bemis is facing challenges that could eventually threaten its long streak of dividend increases. Will the package-maker make it through the tough times once more? Below, we'll revisit how Bemis 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 Bemis.
What We Want to See
Pass or Fail?
|Size||Market cap > $10 billion||$3.2 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||0.69||Pass|
|Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20%||(17.2%)||Pass|
|Valuation||Normalized P/E < 18||15.91||Pass|
|Dividends||Current yield > 2%||3.2%||Pass|
|5-year dividend growth > 10%||4.5%||Fail|
|Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years||29 years||Pass|
|Payout ratio < 75%||57.6%||Pass|
|Total score||7 out of 10|
Source: S&P Capital IQ. Total score = number of passes.
Since we looked at Bemis last year, the company has kept its seven-point score. But Bemis has seen earnings growth come to a halt over the past year, and investors have had to rely entirely on the company's dividends to eke out any total return since last May.
Bemis boasts strong customer connections for its innovative packaging products. On the pharmaceutical side, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) relies on Bemis for packaging that helps it protect the integrity of its products, while Bemis also provides packaging for toilet paper. But with Bemis focusing largely on food, customer relationships with Kraft (NYSE: KFT ) and Heinz (NYSE: HNZ ) are exceedingly important and allow the company to demonstrate its expertise with flexible packaging solutions that don't require standard boxes.
But over the past year, Bemis has seen some trouble. In the third quarter of 2011, Bemis missed earnings estimates and reduced fourth-quarter guidance. To respond to the slowdown, the company closed down some of its plants and laid off workers, suggesting more than just a temporary situation. The company managed to beat estimates in its most recent quarter, but it's too early to tell if that new growth is sustainable.
For retirees and other conservative investors, the earnings situation isn't dire at this point. With a healthy payout ratio below 60%, Bemis still has room to raise dividends without threatening a cash-flow crisis. But to make investors happy, Bemis needs to reignite its growth and demonstrate once again its ability to weather tough times successfully.
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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