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2 Top Stocks for Retirees

By Bradley Freeman – Jul 7, 2020 at 2:00AM

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When building a portfolio for your golden years, you want to focus on steady income stocks.

Stocks have proven to be one of the most powerful vehicles for building wealth over time. But the types of stocks an investor should pick tend to change depending on what their investing goals are as well as the age and employment status of the investor.

When picking companies for a retirement portfolio when the investor is near or has reached retirement age, dependability becomes very important. High-quality companies with high-quality balance sheets and sizable, dependable dividends can provide shareholders with good profit potential while also shielding them from over-the-top risk.

Here are two examples of companies that fit this description and demonstrate their potential to be top stocks for retirees.

An elderly couple

Image source: Getty Images.

1. General Mills: Cooking up steady payouts to investors

First up is General Mills (GIS 3.23%). This century-old food company has been taking the coronavirus pandemic in stride. While some industries' revenues evaporated, General Mills accelerated its growth. In the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020, which ended May 31, sales grew an impressive 21% year over year. For the full fiscal year, sales were up 5%. On a constant-currency basis, operating profits increased 24%, demonstrating how shifting consumer preferences have fueled profit for the company under the direction of CEO Jeff Harmening and his team.

It's not just the pandemic-fueled increase in packaged food sales that is lifting company results. Its 2018 acquisition of pet food specialist Blue Buffalo is also driving sustainable growth. For fiscal 2020, the General Mills pet food segment grew 18%, tripling the overall company's pace, and there is reason to believe that can continue.

Younger folks are more likely than ever to have pets -- and the younger the consumer, the more inclined they generally are to buy premium quality food. Both of those factors should serve as powerful tailwinds for long-term growth.

With the help of 31% growth in operating cash flow in fiscal 2020, the company was able to pay down debt, lowering the net debt to operating cash flow ratio from 5.0 to 3.2. That debt repayment ensured General Mills will keep its investment-grade credit and affordable access to debt markets.

General Mills dividend currently yields 3.2% annually -- significantly better than the average 1.9% yield of companies in the S&P 500 -- and the company has delivered 121 consecutive years of quarterly payouts to shareholders. And with a P/E ratio of 17.39, the stock is trading at a discount to the broader S&P 500 market.

2. Altria Group: A steady stock in chaotic times

While cigarette smoking or vaping is not something to encourage, there's a degree of demand inelasticity in the tobacco market that puts its suppliers in an enviable position during times of crisis. Just like General Mills, Altria Group (MO 1.17%) saw its revenue growth accelerate, while economic turmoil shook the rest of the stock market. Its sales this past quarter soared 13% year over year with earnings per share jumping 38%. Compare that to the prior two quarters when sales were essentially flat.

The company attributed its sales growth to the COVID-19 shutdowns, but -- similarly to General Mills -- Altria made a promising investment to boost long-term growth. In 2018, CEO Billy Gifford announced his company took a 45% equity stake in Cronos Group, a Canadian cannabis company. Cronos is an industry leader in concentrating cannabinoids (like THC, CBD, and CBN) via proprietary fermentation technology. The final product is a premium cannabis oil that carries profit margins much higher than basic marijuana.

However, Altria's acquisition of nicotine vaping company Juul Labs has since been written down by roughly 70% and was hated by analysts due to unforeseen and overwhelming legal troubles. To be candid, it was a poor move. Regulators decided to mandate that the tobacco company unwind its Juul stake, wrapping up a brief and ugly relationship. Gifford and his team now plan to focus on marketing Altria's own vaping brand: Iqos. 

Some have concluded that Altria's purchase of 45% of Cronos Group was a mistake just like Juul. They point to Altria's $4 billion dollar acquisition valuation of the Canadian cannabis company as too rich, given that it's worth roughly half that today. Not so fast.

Yes, Altria was an early U.S. entrant to the legal cannabis space, but it still should reap the enviable rewards of long-term sales growth and Cronos' intellectual property. Cronos offers Altria a whole new market segment to pursue that's still in its infancy. The cannabis industry as a whole is expected to enjoy 18% annualized revenue growth through 2027, and the stake in Cronos positions Gifford and his team quite well to benefit from that trend. Investors have not been so patient, dragging Altria's stock down 40% off the decade-high in hit in 2017 even as the broader markets rose to new records.

Unlike Juul, Cronos Group faces no legal battles, and enjoys a friendly regulatory environment with more new nations every year allowing legal sales of cannabis; hundreds of new dispensaries are opening in Canada and Europe this year, and many more are planned. The promise of Cronos paired with the stock price underperformance of Altria is a compelling combination. It gets better.

At current prices, Altria's dividend yields about 8.5%, more than quadruple the average yield of the S&P 500. On the company's most recent earnings call, Gifford and his team expressed their complete dedication to preserving the dividend. Its payout ratio (the percentage of earnings allocated to dividends) has been climbing, but at 80%, it is still well covered by earnings. Between the company's cash position of $5.5 billion and its decision to halt share repurchases, it should have more than enough liquidity to maintain the payout.

Dependable income for retiree investors

While chasing expensive and flashy growth can be tempting for investors, General Mills and Altria offer better-than-average blends of growth, dividend income, and dependability. Both companies' sales accelerated in the face of the current macroeconomic turmoil, and both are enduring the pandemic rather gracefully. Both offer solid opportunities for investors looking to maintain their retirement portfolios.

Bradley Freeman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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