Will AstraZeneca 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.

AstraZeneca (NYS: AZN) is a huge pharmaceutical company, but just because it's based in London doesn't mean you haven't heard of its products. With drugs like Crestor for cholesterol management and Nexium for acid reflux disease, the company has well-known treatments in production. But like all pharma companies, the question is always where the next blockbuster will come from. Does AstraZeneca have what it takes to deliver the goods? Below, we'll revisit how AstraZeneca 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 AstraZeneca.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

SizeMarket cap > $10 billion$57.8 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 years2 yearsFail
Stock stabilityBeta < 0.90.24Pass
 Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20%(17.4%)Pass
ValuationNormalized P/E < 187.72Pass
DividendsCurrent yield > 2%6.2%Pass
 5-year dividend growth > 10%10.2%Pass
 Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years9 yearsFail
 Payout ratio < 75%37.7%Pass
    
 Total score 8 out of 10

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

Since we looked at AstraZeneca last year, the drugmaker has kept the same eight-point score. The company has an amazing dividend yield, but like many of its peers, AstraZeneca needs to figure out what to do to defend its profits from patent expirations.

Already, AstraZeneca is under attack from generic competition. Teva Pharmaceutical (NAS: TEVA) makes a competing drug to its Arimidex breast-cancer treatment, which cut sales of the former blockbuster sharply. Mylan (NAS: MYL) has benefited from launching a generic version of AstraZeneca's Entocort EC, which helped boost the generic drug company's U.S. sales last year. And although AstraZeneca sued the FDA to stop generics of its antipsychotic drug Seroquel, the gambit is unlikely to succeed, and the company has other big drugs losing patent protection in the coming years.

How AstraZeneca will respond is uncertain. The company acquired a small generics company in China last December, and it licensed cancer drug tremelimumab from Pfizer late last year as well. But AstraZeneca hasn't made the high-profile acquisitions that rivals Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYS: BMY) and Forest Labs (NYS: FRX) have done to bolster their pipelines. Instead, the company has resorted to cost-cutting, eliminating 7,300 jobs that include a big cut to R&D personnel. As such, AstraZeneca could start losing ground to Bristol-Myers, Forest, and other companies that are working harder to address their patent cliffs.

For retirees and other conservative investors, AstraZeneca shows how important it is to look forward as well as back. Despite a solid history of strong dividend growth and good overall performance, the company is at a crossroads. You may prefer to wait to see how AstraZeneca emerges from its big test before you commit your money to the stock.

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 AstraZeneca 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. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Pfizer and Teva Pharmaceutical. 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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