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.

Baxter International (NYSE: BAX) isn't a household name for most people, but its products are vital for its customers. Baxter's therapies treat diseases like hemophilia, while the company also does dialysis treatment and systems for drug delivery. But with so much about health care up in the air right now, is Baxter poised to stand up to whatever reforms may appear next? Below, we'll revisit how Baxter International 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 Baxter International.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $33.5 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 2 years Fail
Stock stability Beta < 0.9 0.49 Pass
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (11.6%) Pass
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 17.58 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 2.2% Pass
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 16.8% Pass
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 6 years Fail
  Payout ratio < 75% 31.9% Pass
  Total score   8 out of 10

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

Since we looked at Baxter International last year, the company has earned an extra point. A slight drop in its earnings multiple makes Baxter a little more attractively valued, but for the most part, the company has the same opportunities and faces the same challenges.

Baxter's medical devices and treatments serve a broad population, but the economic environment for health care lately hasn't been ideal. Hospitals put off big-ticket purchases while patients deferred nonessential procedures, leading to some headwinds for the company. Baxter has managed to grow revenue consistently, but some of that growth comes from acquisitions.

But Baxter is trying to move forward. One promising opportunity is the chance to cure Alzheimer's, where Baxter's Gammagard is in phase 3 trials. Although the drug will come out later than Lilly's (NYSE: LLY) solanezumab and the Pfizer (NYSE: PFE)-made bapineuzumab, Baxter shouldn't have trouble sharing what could be a huge market -- as long as its drug actually works.

Another interesting partnership that Baxter is trying out is its link-up with Momenta Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: MNTA). Partially an answer to competitors' pairings, such as Amgen's (Nasdaq: AMGN) combination with Watson Pharmaceuticals, Baxter's move seeks to stake the company's claim to the lucrative biosimilars market. As the generic equivalent to biologic drugs, biosimilars could be a huge market -- and a ticket to growth for Baxter after a tough few years.

For retirees and other conservative investors, the drug space is never a risk-free investing area. Baxter is making some smart moves, but that's no guarantee of success. Nevertheless, with a solid and growing dividend yield, Baxter should hold its own in the quickly changing world of health care.

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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