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Will Southern Copper Help You Retire Rich?

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.

Gold may get all the headlines, but copper is a much more important metal in making the world go 'round. The many industrial applications for copper help drive the demand that drives mining company Southern Copper's (NYSE: SCCO  ) sales, especially in expanding economies. But recently, concerns about a possible slowdown in economic growth, especially in the formerly red-hot Chinese market, have pulled down investor sentiment about copper's future. How will the copper producer react? Below, we'll revisit how Southern Copper 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 Southern Copper.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $26.8 billion Pass
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 1.59 Fail
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (50.5%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 11.59 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 6.7% Pass
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 2.7% Fail
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 0 years Fail
  Payout ratio < 75% 70.5% Pass
  Total score   5 out of 10

Source: S&P Capital IQ. Total score = number of passes.

Since we looked at Southern Copper last year, the company has kept its five-point score. Despite the stock's break-even performance over the past year, investors have doubts about whether the company's future is as bright as its past has been.

Copper's correlation with economic growth is well known, and so Southern Copper and its peers have benefited greatly from huge economic booms in emerging markets over the past decade. Along with major competitor Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE: FCX  ) , Southern Copper has seen big revenue gains, with sales more than doubling between 2004 and 2011.

The favorable environment for copper in recent years invited new competition to the arena, though. Up-and-comers Taseko Mines (NYSE: TGB  ) and Ivanhoe Mines (NYSE: IVN  ) have sought to boost their copper exposure. Yet as economic troubles in Europe and China started to pick up steam late last year, copper prices began to plunge.

Moreover, Southern Copper faces some company-specific issues. Along with Freeport and Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM  ) , Southern Copper has had labor disputes, although the company has largely avoided big major production cuts.

For retirees and other conservative investors, Southern Copper is a clear play on the health of the world economy. If you believe that fears about a slowdown are overblown, then Southern Copper may be a reasonable, albeit risky, play on global growth for years to come.

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 Southern Copper 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. The Motley Fool owns shares of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. 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.

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