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Will Alcoa 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.

It's hard to think of a more cyclically connected company than Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) , which may be why it traditionally marks the beginning of each quarter's earnings season. With its lightweight aluminum products, Alcoa is a key supplier for a host of different manufacturers. Yet when global economic activity slows down, Alcoa is typically the first to feel it. Will the aluminum maker recover from low prices and flagging demand? Below, we'll revisit how Alcoa 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 Alcoa.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $10.1 billion Pass
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 2 years Fail
Stock stability Beta < 0.9 2.06 Fail
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (68.3%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 36.54 Fail
Dividends Current yield > 2% 1.3% Fail
  5-year dividend growth > 10% (28.5%) Fail
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 0 years Fail
  Payout ratio < 75% 180.8% Fail
       
  Total score   1 out of 10

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

Since we looked at Alcoa last year, the company has lost two points. Falling earnings are likely behind the stock's roughly 15% drop in the past year as well, even though recent stimulus attempts have gotten investors a bit more excited about the company.

Alcoa has been a play on global growth for a long time. Although the company has extensive customer networks around the world, growth in China has been largely responsible for the aluminum-maker's success during the mid-2000s.

Yet as China's growth has slowed, so too have big materials stocks faltered. In the copper market, Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FCX  ) has seen a sharp drop in demand that called its entire growth model into question. Iron ore producers Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF  ) and Vale (NYSE: VALE  ) have also suffered from the slowdown in Chinese growth. For Alcoa's part, it has reduced its smelting capacity in order to try to control costs and eke out what profits it can in the tough environment.

One key area where Alcoa needs to stay competitive is the aircraft industry. With Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) sitting on a huge backlog of orders, Alcoa is a key supplier for components such as wing material for its 737 planes. Without Boeing and its rival Airbus, Alcoa could easily be in much worse shape than it is today.

For retirees and other conservative investors, Alcoa is far too speculative at this point to deserve a place in a retirement portfolio. With a weak dividend, extreme share-price volatility, and poor earnings, you can do better than Alcoa in striving for a stock to help you retire rich.

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 Alcoa 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. 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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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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