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 PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) 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 PepsiCo.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $101 billion Pass
Consistency Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of past five years 4 years Pass
  Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years 4 years Pass
Stock stability Beta < 0.9 0.52 Pass
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (26%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 17.47 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 3% Pass
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 13.4% Pass
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 38 years Pass
  Payout ratio < 75% 47.1% Pass
  Total score   9 out of 10

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

With a score of 9, PepsiCo comes close to giving conservative investors everything they want in a stock for their retirement portfolios. With a solid dividend payout and its role as a pioneer in emerging markets, the company has the combination of income and potential future growth that retirees crave.

Like a cola taste test, the natural comparison for those looking at PepsiCo to make is with Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO). From a name-recognition standpoint, Coke wins the battle with the most valuable brand in the world. But while Coca-Cola and rivals Hansen Natural (Nasdaq: HANS) and Dr Pepper Snapple (NYSE: DPS) focus entirely on beverages, PepsiCo provides a more diversified play because of its snack food business. In fact, the company's food divisions accounted for the majority of its operating profit in 2010.

That doesn't mean PepsiCo has clear sailing ahead. Nearly every company that sells food or beverages, including Coke and McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), is struggling to deal with sky-high commodities prices. Earlier this month, PepsiCo ratcheted down its guidance for 2011, suggesting an end to double-digit profit growth.

Longer-term, though, PepsiCo is poised to prosper with a number of initiatives, ranging from enhancing what it calls its Good-For-You line of products to following through on sustainability and diversity practices. Given the company's ability to weather past storms over the decades, PepsiCo stands as a smart addition for retirement 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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If you want to retire rich, you need to be confident that you've got the basics of your investment strategy down pat. See if you're on track by following the 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool owns shares of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, which are both Motley Fool Income Investor choices. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on PepsiCo. Coca-Cola is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Hansen Natural is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. 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.