Is AstraZeneca the Ultimate Retirement Share?

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LONDON -- The last five years have been tough for those in retirement. Portfolio valuations have been hammered, and annuity rates have plunged. There's no sign things will improve anytime soon, either, as the eurozone and the U.K. economy look set to muddle through at best for some years to come.

A great way to protect yourself from the downturn, however, is to build your retirement fund with shares of large, well-run companies that should grow their earnings steadily over the coming decades. Over time, such investments ought to result in rising dividends and inflation-beating capital growth.

In this series, I'm tracking down the U.K. large caps that have the potential to beat the FTSE 100 over the long term and support a lower-risk, income-generating retirement fund (you can see the companies I've covered so far on this page).


Today, I'm going to take a look at AstraZeneca (ISE: AZN.L) (NYS: AZN) , the U.K.'s second-largest pharmaceutical company. AstraZeneca has been less successful than its peer GlaxoSmithKline in negotiating the patent cliff and is still in transition, but it offers an attractively high yield and has plenty of cash.

Patent earning power
Let's take a look at how AstraZeneca has performed against the FTSE 100 over the last 10 years:

 

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Trailing 10-Year Average

AstraZeneca Total Return

(17.9%)

34.1%

8.6%

5.6%

7.6%

7.6%

FTSE 100 Total Return

7.4%

(28.3%)

27.3%

12.6%

(2.2%)

6.7%

Source: Morningstar. Total return includes both changes to the share price and reinvested dividends. These two ingredients combined are what make it possible for equity portfolios to regularly outperform cash and bonds over the long term.

Despite all the doom and gloom around AstraZeneca's recent performance and looming patent expirations, it has outperformed the FTSE 100 over the last 10 years on a total-returns basis. However, future headwinds in terms of earnings growth remain a concern.

What's the score?
To help me pinpoint suitable investments, I like to score companies on key financial metrics that highlight the characteristics I look for in a retirement share. Let's see how AstraZeneca shapes up:

The basics

Year Founded

1999*

Market Cap

37 billion

Net Debt

5.9 billion pounds

Dividend Yield

6%

*Founded when Astra AB and Zeneca group merged.

Five-year average financials

Operating Margin

32.8%

Interest Cover

10.3 times

EPS Growth

14.3%

Dividend Growth

10.2%

Dividend Cover

2.6 times

Source: Morningstar, Digital Look, AstraZeneca.

Here's how I've scored AstraZeneca on each of these criteria:

Criterion

Comment

Score (out of 5)

Longevity

It's a young company, but its component parts are much older.

3

Performance vs. FTSE

It has outperformed in recent years, but can it continue?

4

Financial Strength

In good health.

4

EPS Growth

EPS is expected to fall this year, breaking the recent trend.

3

Dividend Growth

High yield and above-inflation growth rate are sensibly covered.

5

 

 

Total: 19/25

A score of 19 is strong and suggests that AstraZeneca could be a good candidate for a retirement fund portfolio. The company is still hunting for a replacement for recently departed CEO Dave Brennan and is likely to have further to go before it can return to stable, long-term growth. However, its P/E ratio of six already looks suitably discounted against rival GSK's P/E of 12.9, in my opinion.

Expert selections
I'm not the only one who rates AstraZeneca's long-term prospects. This share is one of the biggest holdings of City fund manager Neil Woodford, whose dividend stock picks have outperformed the wider index by a staggering 305% over the last 15 years.

Woodford manages more than 20 billion pounds of private investors' money -- more than any other City fund manager -- and his record highlights just why so many investors trust his judgement. He currently has around 47% of his portfolio invested in just eight shares -- including AstraZeneca. If you would like to find out the identity of Neil Woodford's seven other biggest holdings, then you can do so by downloading this special free report from the Motley Fool: "8 Shares Held By Britain's Super Investor."

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Further investment opportunities:

The article Is AstraZeneca the Ultimate Retirement Share? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Roland owns shares in GlaxoSmithKline but does not own shares in AstraZeneca. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.

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

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