Should You Buy and Hold CenturyLink?

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Being able to retire rich, or at least comfortable, is the goal of almost any investor. However, that's much easier said than done. In a recent Wells Fargo survey, respondents between the ages of 50 and 59 said that they had, on average, about $29,000 saved up. With pensions pretty much gone, and Social Security targeted for cuts in the future, it's hard to count on anyone but yourself. But $29,000 isn't going to cut it for most people, so you have to get involved in the stock market to grow that nest egg. Getting in the game is the easy part; choosing the right stocks is the hard part.

Making prudent decisions
Generally speaking, I look for four traits in a retirement stock:

  1. Valuation: Investors of all ages want to make sure they're not overpaying for a stock, but this matters even more in retirement. Retirees don't have the long time horizon that younger investors have, so it's essential to make sure you don't overpay in the short term.
  2. Dividends: Most retirees need a combination of both growth and income, as they'll be depending more and more on their portfolios to help with everyday expenses. Companies that pay dividends not only offer immediate income, but they've also proved to outperform non-paying dividend companies over long periods of time.
  3. Growth: Investors love dividends, but we all want to see our stocks rise over time. Growth can be as big a part of your portfolio as a steady dividend. It's important to note that you don't need a high-flying stock that's going to shoot to the moon; a company that can grow and outperform the market is hard enough to find, so steady growth is highly covetable.
  4. Low volatility: Retirees want to invest in great growth stocks just as much as anyone else does, but they also want to be able to rest well knowing that their portfolio won't be taking them on a roller-coaster ride. Most retirees would rather own a sturdy company that lets them sleep at night than a company that whips up and down with the gyrations of the market.

Although some companies are definitely more geared toward retirees, which companies you choose to invest in will be dictated largely by what you already have in your portfolio. Small, mid-, and large caps can all play a role in your investing strategy, so I've chosen to evaluate all varieties of stocks in this regular series.

So how does CenturyLink stack up?
To check out the valuation of CenturyLink (NYS: CTL) , we don't want to look at only its P/E ratio of 16.9. That may seem cheap, but really we don't know without looking at the ratio in historical context. Over the past five years, CenturyLink's average P/E ratio has been 12, which is less than the current ratio. This number suggests that investors may be paying more than they've had to in the past, so it's important to find out why the price tag might be a bit higher today.

CenturyLink's dividend is 8.2%. That's tremendous; not only does CenturyLink pay a dividend, but it also pays more than the average company in the S&P 500.

Next, we want to ensure that CenturyLink's stock has the ability to climb over the next five, 10, or 20 years. A company that's growing its net income has the best possible chance to see its share price rise over time. Of course, we can't predict the future, but we can look back to get an idea of how the company has performed in the past to try to ensure future earnings growth. Over the past five years, CenturyLink has grown its net income by 14.5% annually, and that's pretty significant considering all of the recent market turmoil. Of course, this doesn't mean that growth will continue, but it's a great sign that the company can prosper in the face of difficulty.

One of the best gauges of volatility is called beta, which measures the impact that market movements will have on a stock. For instance, a beta of 1.0 signifies that CenturyLink will move in tandem with the market, a beta of 2.0 means that the stock will move up twice as much as the market, and so on. In this case, CenturyLink has a beta of 0.73, which is pretty low. Generally speaking, I like to see a beta below 1.2 for retirees, and CenturyLink fits the bill.

Let's look at the competition
We've taken a look at CenturyLink, and maybe you think it's passed all the tests, or maybe you just don't feel comfortable with the results. In any event, it's beneficial to see how a company stacks up in its industry, because it's just as important to understand a company's competitors as it is to understand that particular company. Here are CenturyLink's stats compared with three of its closest competitors.

Company

Current P/E

Dividend Yield

5-Year Net Income CAGR

1-Year Beta

CenturyLink16.98.2%14.5%0.7
Frontier Communications (NYS: FTR) 43.610.5%(9.5%)0.8
Windstream (NAS: WIN) 21.48.3%(8.3%)0.9
Verizon Communications (NYS: VZ) 15.65.6%(1.3%)0.6

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Each company has traits to like and traits that leave something to be desired. Either way, it's beneficial to look at the industry picture and not just CenturyLink in isolation.

Of course, I can't decide for you whether this is the best stock for retirement, but it has passed three of our four tests, which is pretty impressive. That doesn't necessarily mean this stock is a slam dunk, but it has shown its ability to reward shareholders, and that means it could have a place in your portfolio.

Interested in adding any of these companies to your watchlist? Click below to get the latest commentary and analysis.

At the time this article was published Jordan DiPietroowns no shares of the companies mentioned here. The Fool owns shares of and has created a ratio put spread position on Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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