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.
Sprint Nextel (NYS: S) has come a long way over the years. Since its beginning as a rival long-distance provider to the much better-known AT&T (NYS: T) and MCI, Sprint has reinvented itself as a major mobile network. Yet for a long time, Sprint was on the outside looking in, as AT&T and later Verizon's (NYS: VZ) wireless segment got access to the much-loved iPhone product line before Sprint did. Now that Sprint iPhones are available, can the company finally get its big chip off its shoulder and muscle its way to success? Below, we'll take a look at how Sprint Nextel 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 Sprint Nextel.
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%
0 out of 7
Source: S&P Capital IQ. NM = not meaningful; Sprint Nextel had negative earnings over the past year and doesn't pay a dividend. Total score = number of passes.
With no points, Sprint Nextel doesn't have any of the comforting traits that conservative investors like to see in a stock. As a highly speculative play, the company is prone to wild swings and hasn't performed well at all in recent years.
In the fast-evolving world of smartphones and mobile devices, Sprint found itself caught in a catch-22. On one hand, not having the iPhone to sell hurt its customer counts. Yet as the company has discovered, having the iPhone raised subscriber counts, but at the huge price of throttling its margins as huge subsidies could eventually threaten its profitability. In fact, at least one analyst believes that a bankruptcy filing might be in Sprint's future if it doesn't get its future strategy straight.
Another problem is that Sprint hasn't navigated evolving network trends as well as it could have. On one hand, Sprint was first to the 4G finish line with Clearwire's (NAS: CLWR) WiMAX network. But as the competing LTE technology has gained favor, Sprint has had to look for alternatives to Clearwire -- and its first choice, LightSquared, hasn't had the success Sprint had hoped for.
For whatever reason, Sprint continually appears as a potential buyer for its competitors. Before AT&T's bid for T-Mobile, many thought Sprint would try to combine with T-Mobile to stand up to the big two players in the U.S. industry. More recently, Sprint reportedly considered buying outMetroPCS (NYS: PCS) , and others think Leap Wireless might also make a good target. Yet critics believe the company should stop looking at spending yet more money on dubious takeovers and instead focus on keeping up with its rivals on the service end.
For retirees and other conservative investors, the uncertainties involved with Sprint make it an unsuitable stock. It's true that if Sprint can manufacture a turnaround, the stock could soar. But with no dividend income, no growth, and big share-price losses in recent years, Sprint isn't the best choice for a retirement portfolio.
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.
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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. 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.