Will Kimberly-Clark Help You Retire Rich?

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.

Many people believe that consumer goods stocks are a conservative investor's best friend. Kimberly-Clark (NYS: KMB) certainly fits the bill, with products from Kleenex to diapers and health-care supplies. But is now the right time for investors to be defensive, or will Kimberly-Clark end up lagging behind the broad market in its next bull run? Below, we'll revisit how Kimberly-Clark 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 Kimberly-Clark.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Size Market cap > $10 billion $28.8 billion Pass
Consistency Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years 4 years Pass
  Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years 2 years Fail
Stock stability Beta < 0.9 0.32 Pass
  Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20% (21.0%) Fail
Valuation Normalized P/E < 18 16.90 Pass
Dividends Current yield > 2% 4.0% Pass
  5-year dividend growth > 10% 7.4% Fail
  Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years 40 years Pass
  Payout ratio < 75% 69.1% Pass
       
  Total score   7 out of 10

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

Since we looked at Kimberly-Clark last year, the company has stayed at seven points. The stock has done a nice job of outperforming the overall market, but some see challenges ahead.

Kimberly-Clark operates in the same consumer-goods space as giant Procter & Gamble (NYS: PG) and Colgate-Palmolive (NYS: CL) . But because Kimberly-Clark focuses more on paper products, it hasn't been able to produce the same margins that P&G and Colgate have. In addition, North American sales haven't been all that strong, and Kimberly-Clark doesn't reach out internationally as much as it would like.

Another concern is that even as dividend payments have risen, Kimberly-Clark's net income hasn't delivered much growth. That has resulted in the company's payout ratio rising, and although it's not at unhealthy levels, it's a far cry from figures of less than 40% a decade ago. With Johnson & Johnson (NYS: JNJ) and Procter & Gamble both having similar payout ratios, there's no need for concern on the dividend front just yet.

Still, recent earnings news has been alarming. Back in January, the company said that rising raw material costs would hurt its outlook for the coming year, even after last year's earnings were down 14% from 2010.

For retirees and other conservative investors, the question for Kimberly-Clark is whether the company can truly turn its international expansion plans into the growth driver that the global markets have been for so many of its competitors. If it can, then it might finally launch Kimberly-Clark on the growth path it needs to sustain its dividend well into the future.

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 Kimberly-Clark 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 Johnson & Johnson. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, and Procter & Gamble, as well as creating a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson. 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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