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 Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) 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 Lilly.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $40.4 billion Pass
Consistency Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years 5 years Pass
  Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years 4 years Pass
Stock stability Beta < 0.9 0.78 Pass
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (21.3%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 9.11 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 5.6% Pass
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 5.2% Fail
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 0 years Fail
  Payout ratio < 75% 42.7% Pass
  Total score   7 out of 10

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

Lilly collects seven points on our 10-point scale, showing that it has a lot of what retirees and other conservative investors are looking for in a stock. Although the drugmaker broke its streak of 43 years of dividend increases last year, the stock still gives income investors a nice sustainable payout.

Even among high-yielding pharma stocks, Lilly has a great yield. At its current level of 5.6%, it beats out Novartis (NYSE: NVS) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) by a considerable margin. And although it doesn't quite compete with Novartis's faster dividend growth, Lilly's low payout ratio shows that the company has taken a conservative approach, leaving room for potential dividend hikes once the company's future is clearer.

But several recent events have gone against Lilly. A recent bill allowing drug imports from overseas would spell trouble not only for Lilly but for competitors Merck (NYSE: MRK) and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) as well, since they all charge more in the U.S. for drugs than they do in other countries. The company also suffered a setback when partner Amylin Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: AMLN) released disappointing clinical data for its Bydureon diabetes drug earlier this month.

Lilly's future depends on refilling its pipeline either through research or strategic acquisitions. The company has a long history of managing itself well, but with many of its peers facing the same pressures, competition for pipeline-renewing buyouts could be fierce. Nevertheless, for investors seeking attractive yields, Lilly is worth a close look as a potential addition to your portfolio.

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.

Add Eli Lilly to My Watchlist , which will aggregate our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.

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. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Novartis is a Motley Fool Global Gains 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.