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. Let's figure out what makes a great retirement-oriented stock, then examine whether Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL) has what we're looking for.

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 Colgate-Palmolive.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $37.9 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 0.49 Pass
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (10.1%) Pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 16.80 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 3% Pass
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 12.8% Pass
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 48 years Pass
  Payout ratio < 75% 46.8% Pass
  Total score   9 out of 10

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Total score = number of passes.

Colgate-Palmolive cleans up in the points total, with a near-perfect nine. The consumer products giant only falls short with some minor bumps in its cash flow, but overall, the company has been giving conservative investors just about everything they could want from a stock.

With a mature business in household products ranging from toothpaste and dishwashing soap to pet food, you won't confuse Colgate with a high-growth stock. But for retirees, consistent growth is more important than super-fast growth, and Colgate has done a good job of delivering modest gains in revenue in recent years.

Recently, though, the company has run into some headwinds. Both it and peer Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) reported disappointing earnings as the companies face a couple of troubling trends. On one hand, higher commodity costs have hit profits not just at Colgate but at P&G and Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB) as well. At the same time, private-label competition from retailers Costco (Nasdaq: COST), Sears Holdings (Nasdaq: SHLD), and Target (NYSE: TGT) pose a threat to Colgate's higher-margin product sales.

Despite these challenges, Colgate stock remains attractive. Its valuation isn't incredibly cheap, but it sports a strong dividend yield and has one of the longest streaks of consistent annual raises in payouts. Investors should have every reason to believe that Colgate will retain its position among elite U.S. companies for years to come, and as such, it would make a good portfolio addition for retirees and other conservative investors.

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.

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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.