Will Medtronic Help You Retire Rich?

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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.

Medtronic (NYS: MDT) is the world's biggest maker of equipment to help regulate heart rhythm, including pacemakers. With the aging of the world population, Medtronic's business looks like it has nearly unlimited growth potential. But the medical-device industry is also quite competitive. Does Medtronic have what it takes to climb to the top of the heap? Below, we'll revisit how Medtronic 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 Medtronic.

SizeMarket cap > $10 billion$41.1 billionPass
ConsistencyRevenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years5 yearsPass
 Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years4 yearsPass
Stock stabilityBeta < 0.90.86Pass
 Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20%(36.3%)Fail
ValuationNormalized P/E < 1815.33Pass
DividendsCurrent yield > 2%2.5%Pass
 5-year dividend growth > 10%17.5%Pass
 Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years33 yearsPass
 Payout ratio < 75%29.3%Pass
    
 Total score 9 out of 10

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

Since we looked at Medtronic last year, the company's score has stayed at its lofty levels. But the company still faces some big challenges.

Medtronic had an up-and-down year in 2011. A weak economy hurt a number of device makers, as patients put off elective procedures while hospitals tried to cut costs on expensive equipment. Stryker (NYS: SYK) saw a double-digit drop in free cash flow even as its revenue jumped at a much faster pace than Medtronic's.

But the company is trying to expand. International markets now make up about 44% of Medtronic's revenue, and lower costs outside the U.S. help Medtronic boost its companywide margins. In addition, new products are starting to have a positive impact on Medtronic's overall sales.

However, in its quarterly report released yesterday, weakness in defibrillator and spine-product sales made the company miss on revenue. Medtronic also said that starting next year, a new tax on medical products will cost it between $125 million and $175 million annually.

Moreover, up-and-coming device makers are gunning for Medtronic. Intuitive Surgical (NAS: ISRG) also struggled through the recession, but despite the high price tag on its da Vinci robotic surgical systems, the company has seen phenomenal growth and could even see growth accelerate in a full economic recovery. Similarly, MAKO Surgical (NAS: MAKO) has pushed a robotic system into the hip and knee replacement space, one where established medical-equipment makers could see some pressure.

For retirees and other conservative investors, the key for Medtronic is its long record of impressive dividend growth. Given the expanding size of the medical-device market, there's more than enough room for small growth leaders to take their place in the industry without jeopardizing Medtronic's strong position.

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.

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

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Medtronic and MAKO Surgical. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Stryker, MAKO Surgical, and Intuitive Surgical. 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.

Copyright © 1995 - 2012 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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