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Will Abbott Labs 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.

Until very recently, Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT  ) was one of the biggest well-diversified players in the health-care space. Yet even with the company having completed its major spinoff, the continuing Abbott still has a wide array of different businesses. How will Abbott fare in its new form? Let's revisit how Abbott Labs 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 Abbott Labs.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Size

Market cap > $10 billion

$54.5 billion

Pass

Consistency

Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years

5 years

Pass

 

Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years

4 years

Pass

Stock stability

Beta < 0.9

0.19

Pass

 

Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20%

(8.3%)

Pass

Valuation

Normalized P/E < 18

10.51

Pass

Dividends

Current yield > 2%

1.6%

Fail

 

5-year dividend growth > 10%

NM*

NM

 

Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years

0 years*

Fail

 

Payout ratio < 75%

53.4%

Pass

       
 

Total score

 

7 out of 10

Source: S&P Capital IQ.
*Spinoff of AbbVie makes prior comparison not meaningful. Total score = number of passes.

Since we looked at Abbott Labs last year, the company lost a point, as the spinoff of AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV  ) resulted in a lower dividend. But the stock has performed well, rising about 20% over the past year after adjusting for the spun-off AbbVie.

After a long wait, Abbott finally broke itself into two pieces. AbbVie got the company's proprietary drug business, including blockbuster Humira, which has sales that amount to almost half of AbbVie's projected revenue. Abbott got to keep the rest of the business, which includes generic drugs, nutritional products, diagnostics, and vascular products.

In its first quarterly report as an independent company in January, Abbott reveled in being in what CFO Thomas Freyman called a "no-Humira world." Although its nutritional segment did well and its diagnostics business had a nice jump in revenue, Abbott's generic drug segment and vascular health unit didn't fare as well. In particular, nutritionals will be a key driver of performance for the new Abbott, and it's faring well in emerging markets such as China. By contrast, Mead Johnson Nutrition (NYSE: MJN  ) reported difficulties in China earlier last year.

Meanwhile, for generics, Abbott needs to focus on emerging markets as well. Increasingly, industry giants Teva Pharmaceutical (NYSE: TEVA  ) and Dr. Reddy's have moved toward emerging markets, with Teva in particular having found respite from falling U.S. sales by looking to faster-growing countries. The key is for Abbott to use generics as a way to break into new markets, and then once its name is better known, it can start selling higher-margin products.

For retirees and conservative investors, the new Abbott may seem like an unknown quantity. But despite some concerns about a lower yield, the company looks like a solid health-care pick for retirement portfolios.

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're still confused about Abbott and AbbVie, we understand. To help investors better understand the situation, the Fool has created a brand new premium report on both stocks. Inside, we outline all of the must-know opportunities and risks facing both companies, so make sure to claim this report by clicking here now.

Add Abbott Labs to My Watchlist, which will aggregate our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.


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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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7/28/2014 4:00 PM
ABT $42.93 Down -0.11 -0.26%
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