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Will Dow Chemical 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.

Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW  ) is a giant in the chemical industry, but many people don't know just how diverse its business is. With everything from agricultural products to paint, plastics to electronics materials, Dow has a wide scope. But can the company turn those businesses into more profit in the years ahead? Below, we'll revisit how Dow Chemical 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 Dow Chemical.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $35.8 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 2.32 Fail
Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (59.5%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 13.85 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 4.3% Pass
5-year dividend growth > 10% (7.8%) Fail
Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 2 years Fail
Payout ratio < 75% 54.4% Pass
Total score 4 out of 10

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

Since we looked at Dow Chemical last year, the company hasn't improved on its four-point score. Shareholders aren't thrilled with its performance either, with the stock down about 10% in the past year.

Dow has worried some investors with its lackluster performance recently. In the first quarter, the company had relatively flat revenue and lower earnings from the previous year. Like rival DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) , Dow's business in the electronics industry sagged, but promising results in agriculture helped minimize the damage to the company.

To try to grow, Dow has increasingly relied on partnerships. The company has turned to a collaboration with Solazyme (Nasdaq: SZYM  ) so that Dow can get oils it needs to produce insulating fluid for electrical equipment. Similarly, Dow's joint venture with Corning (NYSE: GLW  ) is a cash cow specializing in silicon applications for everything from cookware to solar panels. And by tying up with Ford (NYSE: F  ) , Dow plans to help create carbon-fiber composites that will be cheaper and lighter than metal.

In addition, low natural gas prices have spurred a decision to build a new ethylene plant in Texas. Scheduled to start operating in 2017, the cracking plant would produce ethylene and propylene, taking advantage of low input costs to boost supplies of the much in demand products.

For retirees and other conservative investors, Dow has plenty of promise, but it's been an extremely volatile stock in recent years. In addition, a dividend cut back in 2009 took away a lot of confidence among dividend investors. Only those willing to take serious risk of a future setback should look at Dow as an addition to 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.

Also, Dow's tie-up with Ford is just part of what makes the car company interesting. Read our premium research report with in-depth analysis on whether Ford is a buy right now, and why. Simply click here to get instant access to this premium report.

Add Dow Chemical 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 Corning, Solazyme, and Ford. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Ford and Corning, as well as creating a synthetic long position in Ford. 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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Dan Caplinger
TMFGalagan

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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Related Tickers

9/2/2014 10:48 AM
DOW $53.49 Down -0.06 -0.11%
The Dow Chemical C… CAPS Rating: ****
DD $65.79 Down -0.32 -0.48%
E.I. du Pont de Ne… CAPS Rating: ****
F $17.60 Up +0.19 +1.06%
Ford CAPS Rating: ****
GLW $20.84 Down -0.02 -0.10%
Corning CAPS Rating: *****
SZYM $9.26 Down -0.12 -1.28%
Solazyme CAPS Rating: ****

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