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.
Nothing's yummier than something from the bakery, and that appeal is what has generated strong profits for Flowers Foods (NYS: FLO) for years. But recent challenges in the form of higher input costs has the bread-maker feeling a little bit stale. Below, we'll look at how Flowers Foods 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 Flowers Foods.
What We Want to See
Pass or Fail?
Market cap > $10 billion
Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years
Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years
Beta < 0.9
Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20%
Normalized P/E < 18
Current yield > 2%
5-year dividend growth > 10%
Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years
Payout ratio < 75%
7 out of 10
Source: S&P Capital IQ. Total score = number of passes.
With seven points, Flowers Foods gives conservative investors much of what they like to see in a stock. It's a small stock, but it's in a stable industry that has rewarded shareholders with minimal volatility and healthy dividends.
Flowers makes bakery products for distribution in grocery stores as well as wholesale foodservice companies. That has been a challenging segment lately, as higher food costs have hamstrung the entire industry. Kraft (NYS: KFT) , General Mills (NYS: GIS) , and ConAgra (NYS: CAG) have all cited higher input costs as problematic for their earnings, and Flowers had to rein in guidance back in August, sending shares tumbling.
But what keeps Flowers in good graces among investors is its dividend. Flowers doesn't have the highest yield in the industry, but its long term dividend growth is at the top of its peer group, easily beating out JM Smucker (NYS: SJM) , Kellogg (NYS: K) , and Heinz (NYS: HNZ) .
The one thing that should make retirees and other conservative investors balk about Flowers is its somewhat rich valuation. However, in exchange for the stability that consumer-staples stocks bring during troubled economic times, Flowers shares may be worth paying up for. At the very least, Flowers deserves consideration for retirement portfolios.
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.
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