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Will ExxonMobil Help You Retire Rich?

Tuesday - 2/12/2013, 11:30pm  ET

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.

As the company with the biggest market capitalization in the Dow Jones Industrials by a wide margin, ExxonMobil has a commanding presence over the oil industry and the entire U.S. stock market. But despite its size, Exxon can't change a basic rule of the energy industry: Once you take oil out of the ground, it becomes increasingly difficult to get as much production from the same wells. Can the oil giant get over declining production trends by capitalizing on new opportunities? Below, we'll revisit how ExxonMobil 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 ExxonMobil.

Factor

What We Want to See

Actual

Pass or Fail?

Size

Market cap > $10 billion

$397 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

3 years

Fail

Stock stability

Beta < 0.9

0.51

Pass

 

Worst loss in past five years no greater than 20%

(13.1%)

Pass

Valuation

Normalized P/E < 18

8.80

Pass

Dividends

Current yield > 2%

2.6%

Pass

 

Five-year dividend growth > 10%

9.7%

Fail

 

Streak of dividend increases >= 10 years

30 years

Pass

 

Payout ratio < 75%

22%

Pass

       
 

Total score

 

8 out of 10

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

Since we looked at ExxonMobil last year, the company has given back the point it gained from 2011 to 2012, as its free cash flow contracted last year. The stock has only managed to pick up about 5% in the past year as pressure in the energy industry has affected Exxon harder than you might expect.

In its most recent quarter, Exxon managed to resume its growing ways, with profit rising 6%. But Exxon has suffered from production decreases that put the oil giant at a three-year low, lagging behind Chevron's modest production growth in the same quarter.

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