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 ArcelorMittal (NYSE: MT) 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 ArcelorMittal.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $27.6 billion Pass
Consistency Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years 3 years Fail
  Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years 2 years Fail
Stock stability Beta < 0.9 1.52 Fail
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (68.5%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 12.56 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 4.2% Pass
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 6.4% Fail
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 0 years Fail
  Payout ratio < 75% 35.9% Pass
       
  Total score   4 out of 10

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

With only four points, ArcelorMittal falls short on giving conservative investors everything they like to see in a stock. The steel giant has a very reasonable valuation and pays a nice dividend, but it has suffered significant reductions in earnings and free cash flow both during and after the recession.

The toughest thing about the steel business is that it's extremely cyclical. During boom times, companies like U.S. Steel (NYSE: X) and POSCO (NYSE: PKX) see lots of demand for steel, pushing profits higher. But when the global economy hiccups, even strong companies like ArcelorMittal fall into the dumps for a while.

But what sets ArcelorMittal apart from its competition is steel maven Lakshmi Mittal, who runs the business and retains an interest of more than 40% in the company. That means that unlike with some stocks, shareholders don't have to worry about having different incentives from the people in charge of the business.

In fact, ArcelorMittal is taking advantage of the lull in activity to build up its empire. It teamed up with Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU) to buy Macarthur Coal, which provides a key raw material for steel production. But it hasn't had smooth sailing entirely, as the company, along with Vale (NYSE: VALE), lost a bid to develop Mongolia's Tavan Tolgoi coal mine, which has since hit snags.

For retirees and other conservative investors, ArcelorMittal's huge ups and downs may give them too rocky a ride to include the shares in their portfolios. But for those willing to take some risk, now's the right time to strike while the industry is anything but hot.

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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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. 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 Fool has a disclosure policy.