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. In this series, I look at 10 measures to show what makes a great retirement-oriented stock.

With so many well-known tobacco companies in the U.S., it's no surprise that many investors don't think to look to international markets to find investments in the industry. Yet British American Tobacco (AMEX: BTI) has a long history of selling tobacco into the global market. With the advantages of a big presence outside the U.S., is British American Tobacco a better bet than its American counterparts? Below, we'll revisit how British American Tobacco does on our 10-point scale.

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 British American Tobacco.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $99.1 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 5 years Pass
Stock stability Beta < 0.9 0.30 Pass
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (30.3%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 18.67 Fail
Dividends Current yield > 2% 4% Pass
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 17.7% Pass
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 14 years Pass
  Payout ratio < 75% 76.2% Fail
  Total score   7 out of 10

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

Since we looked at British American Tobacco last year, the company has dropped two points. Both its earnings payout ratio and its valuations have risen beyond attractive levels.

For a long time, the U.S. was seen as the big battleground for tobacco litigation. One of the primary purposes for Altria (NYSE: MO) splitting off its international tobacco business into Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM) was to allow the international segment to go on unfettered by any threat of lingering U.S. liability. A 2009 U.S. law mandating a warning label covering at least half the front and back of cigarette packages represented another tack from regulators seeking to impose restrictions on packaging, threatening Altria as well as Lorillard (NYSE: LO) and Reynolds American (NYSE: RAI) -- in which British American has a substantial stake -- with big costs and likely drops in revenue as well.

Yet recently, foreign countries have jumped on the regulation bandwagon. In Australia, both Philip Morris and British American have sued the government over a proposal to force cigarette makers to cover packaging with warnings and remove logos and other graphics.

For retirees and other conservative investors, British American has a similar dividend yield to many of its tobacco peers. After a big rally over the past year, however, you may prefer to wait for a pullback before buying shares at their current lofty levels.

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.

If you really want to retire rich, no one stock will get the job done. Instead, you need to know how to prepare for your golden years. The Motley Fool's latest special report will give you all the details you need to get a smart investing plan going, plus it reveals three smart stocks for a rich retirement. But don't waste another minute -- click here and read it today.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Philip Morris International and Altria Group. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Philip Morris International. 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.