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Will Sprint Help You Retire Rich?

Tuesday - 4/2/2013, 7:30pm  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. As part of an ongoing series, I'm looking today at 10 measures to show whether Sprint Nextel makes a great retirement-oriented stock.

Sprint has had a long history of being perceived as the odd player out in the U.S. wireless telecom industry, as its two larger rivals have parceled up much of the most lucrative business over the years. But recent events have thrown the former third-wheel back into the competitive mix. Below, we'll revisit how Sprint 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.


What We Want to See


Pass or Fail?


Market cap > $10 billion

$18.8 billion



Revenue growth > 0% in at least four of five past years

3 years



Free cash flow growth > 0% in at least four of past five years

1 year


Stock stability

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%




Total score


1 out of 7

Source: S&P Capital IQ. NM = not meaningful; Sprint had negative earnings over the past year and doesn't pay a dividend. Total score = number of passes.

Since we looked at Sprint last year, the company has managed to pull its score up from zero. It did so on the basis of its market cap, which soared along with the stock as the company found a much-needed lifeline. As a result of rising optimism over the telecom's prospects, Sprint shares have more than doubled over the past year.

The big news for Sprint over the past year came last October, when Japanese telecom SoftBank agreed to invest $8 billion in the company and pay existing shareholders an additional $12.1 billion in exchange for taking a 70% stake in the newly recapitalized Sprint. The move to take such a big stake in the No. 3 provider may seem odd, but SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son believes that rivals AT&T and Verizon have been far too slow in embracing the cold reality that data service is the key driver of success in the market. With separate voice and text service largely giving way to data-driven alternatives, Son thinks Sprint can excel by focusing more on data than Verizon and AT&T have thus far.

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