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Will Novartis 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.

Swiss drug giant Novartis (NYSE: NVS  ) isn't the best-known pharma stock in the U.S., but it combines two extremely lucrative businesses under one roof, with both proprietary drug development as well as its Sandoz generic division. Can Novartis use that dual strategy to its advantage? Let's revisit how Novartis 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 Novartis.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Size

Market cap > $10 billion

$165 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

2 years

Fail

Stock stability

Beta < 0.9

0.15

Pass

 

Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20%

(6.9%)

Pass

Valuation

Normalized P/E < 18

23.33

Fail

Dividends

Current yield > 2%

3.6%

Pass

 

5-year dividend growth > 10%

10.4%

Pass

 

Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years

12 years

Pass

 

Payout ratio < 75%

63.4%

Pass

       
 

Total score

 

8 out of 10

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

Since we looked at Novartis last year, the company has held its eight-point score, even as revenue and free cash flow sank last year. The stock has put in a very strong performance, rising about 25% over the past year.

Novartis has been going through the same phenomenon as many of its pharma peers, as patent-cliff issues have hit the company hard. With top-selling hypertension drug Diovan seeing higher competition from generics after having lost patent protection last September, Novartis will continue to see unfavorable comparisons through most of 2013.

But Novartis has a promising stable of drugs that could be able to restore sales. Lucentis, on which Novartis is partnering with Roche, treats macular degeneration. Although Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN  ) has a competing drug, Eylea, that has done exceedingly well. Eylea hasn't hurt Lucentis's sales, though, at least to this point, as the macular-degeneration market has expanded because of aging populations and the expansion of Lucentis' indications to treat diabetic macular edema. In addition, multiple-sclerosis treatment Gilenya is poised to make its own contribution to Novartis' top-line growth even as the multibillion-dollar MS market heats up with more competition.

Meanwhile, where the real growth may lie is in Sandoz. With U.S. health-care reform stressing cost savings, Teva Pharmaceutical (NYSE: TEVA  ) and Novartis have both sought to position their respective generic businesses to take maximum advantage of the trend. With years to go before health-care laws fully take effect, it's too early to tell whether Novartis can grow from the opportunity, but it's promising nevertheless.

For retirees and other conservative investors, a solid track record of dividend growth and a high yield offset to some extent a rich valuation for the stock. At somewhat cheaper prices, though, it would be a lot easier to recommend Novartis as a promising piece of a core 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.

The best investing approach is to choose great companies and stick with them for the long term. The Motley Fool's free report "3 Stocks That Will Help You Retire Rich" names stocks that could help you build long-term wealth and retire well, along with some winning wealth-building strategies that every investor should be aware of. Click here now to keep reading.

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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

12/22/2014 4:02 PM
NVS $95.30 Up +0.69 +0.73%
Novartis CAPS Rating: *****
REGN $412.97 Down -14.67 -3.43%
Regeneron Pharmace… CAPS Rating: ***
TEVA $58.26 Up +0.26 +0.45%
Teva Pharmaceutica… CAPS Rating: *****

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