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.

CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS) has two related but very different businesses. On one hand, it has a network of more than 7,000 retail drugstores. But in addition to its stores, CVS also provides pharmacy benefit management services -- an increasingly important part of cost management for health care. With strong competition in the drugstore space and ongoing consolidation among PBMs, can CVS keep walking the fine line between the two successfully? Below, we'll revisit how CVS Caremark 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 CVS Caremark.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $59.5 billion Pass
Consistency Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years 4 years Pass
  Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years 5 years Pass
Stock stability Beta < 0.9 0.78 Pass
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (27.2%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 16.81 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 1.4% Fail
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 26.6% Pass
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 9 years Fail
  Payout ratio < 75% 20.3% Pass
  Total score   7 out of 10

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

Since we looked at CVS Caremark last year, the company has picked up an extra point. Renewed growth in sales and free cash flow are responsible for the improvement.

CVS once played second fiddle to Walgreen (NYSE: WAG), which still has a slightly larger store network. But when you add in the pharmacy benefit management business, CVS far eclipses Walgreen in both sales and market capitalization, leaving struggling Rite Aid (NYSE: RAD) a distant third.

Lately, CVS has cemented its strong position at the expense of Walgreen. With Express Scripts (Nasdaq: ESRX) and Walgreen having ended their PBM relationship, CVS has had the opportunity to poach Express Scripts' customers who used to rely on Walgreen. On the other hand, Express Scripts just completed its merger with Medco Health Solutions, which will provide tougher competition to CVS on the PBM side of the business. Moreover, if Walgreen ends up joining forces with Rite Aid, CVS could face a new threat on the retail side. Some have even speculated that CVS could merge with Walgreen, but Fool analyst Austin Smith is convinced that won't happen.

Some of CVS' strategic moves haven't worked out as well as investors had hoped. The company said that it planned to shut all of its Beauty 360 stores, which attempted to cash in on CVS' retail beauty business by focusing on upper-end cosmetics. The attempt to boost margins may have failed, but it wasn't a bad idea to try.

Still, CVS has some valuable relationships. Its long-term contract with Aetna (NYSE: AET) is set to run 12 years, giving the PBM segment some stability.

For retirees and other conservative investors, strong dividend growth has made the stock somewhat more attractive, although competitive pressures raise the possibility of increased volatility down the road. CVS isn't bargain priced, but it's worth a look for those seeking to cash in on the demographic trend toward increased health-care needs.

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. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Express Scripts. 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.