Some might reasonably argue that CVS Health (NYSE:CVS) is already a blue chip stock. There's no standard definition for blue chips, but CVS Health certainly meets most of the criteria many people would suggest. Let's run the company through a few of them and see how it fares:
Track record of performance over time
CVS Health has clearly performed well over time, because it sports a market capitalization of around $94 billion, well above its peers and chief rivals, Walgreen (market cap: $60 billion) and Rite Aid (market cap: $5 billion). (It's not crazy to include Wal-Mart, in the mix, too, as the $250-billion behemoth also competes in drugstore offerings.) You don't reach the size of $94 billion without doing a lot of things right. The company's consistently growing top and bottom lines bode well for its future.
CVS Health is the patient prescription filler in the U.S., with 23% market share, and after its purchase of Caremark, it's now a major pharmacy benefits manager, with that operation generating about $76 billion per year.
Recent initiatives include a surprising move to stop selling cigarettes, which generate about $2 billion in revenue. The rationale makes sense – as the company positions itself as an advocate of good health – even changing its name to CVS Health from CVS Caremark -- tobacco sales were problematic. The company is also aggressively growing its network of in-house MinuteClinics. They recently numbered around 850, but the company is aiming for 1,500 by 2017. With MinuteClinic sales surging 24% year over year in the last quarter, that's quite promising.
Solid balance sheet
CVS Health sports a solid balance sheet, featuring a rising cash pile. Its debt level has risen in recent years, too, with long-term debt recently topping $12 billion, but debt shrank over the past two quarters and the company's debt-to-equity ratio is a reasonable 0.32. It has been spending many billions buying back stock in recent years, which is a smart move if a company's stock is undervalued. With CVS Health's stock having averaged 19% annual growth over the past five years, though, and sporting a P/E near 21, well above its five-year average of 15.5, the stock isn't quite a screaming bargain at the moment. A pause in buybacks seems in order.
Strong revenue growth and cash flow generation
Over the past five years, CVS Health has grown its revenue and earnings by annual averages of 7% and 10%, respectively. In recent years gross margins have inched down a bit, but operating and net margins have grown, suggesting that the company is wringing more value from each dollar of sales. Its share count has been dropping, too, due to buybacks, and that helps boost earnings per share. Generating more than $4 billion in free cash flow, CVS Health is more than able to cover interest payments and keep growing.
CVS Health offers a dividend yield of 1.4%. That's not the most generous payout around, but the company has been increasing its dividend by an annual average of about 23% over the past decade. That's very exciting for investors who look to blue chips for dividends. Better still, its dividend payout ratio was recently a measly 24.5%, suggesting that there's plenty of room for further significant increases.
High quality and reliability
Some dictionary definitions for the term "blue chip" are that the stock be of the highest quality and reliable. In other words, investments in blue chip stocks should help you sleep at night. CVS Health seems to be firing on all of its cylinders, and has initiatives in place that can help it keep growing for many years. Its consistent growth and rising dividend suggest that management is executing well and confident of the company's future ability to keep rewarding shareholders.
Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends CVS Health. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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 Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.