Is Vodafone The Ultimate Retirement Share?

Published in Company Comment on 25 July 2012

Will shares in Vodafone help you build a FTSE-beating retirement fund?

The last five years have been tough for those in retirement. Portfolio valuations have been hammered and annuity rates have plunged. There's no sign of things improving anytime soon, either, as the eurozone and the UK economy look set to muddle through at best for some years to come.

A great way of protecting yourself from the downturn, however, is by building your retirement fund with shares of large, well-run companies that should grow their earnings steadily over the coming decades. Over time, such investments ought to result in rising dividends and inflation-beating capital growth.

In this series, I'm tracking down the UK large-caps that have the potential to beat the FTSE 100 (UKX) over the long term and support a lower-risk income-generating retirement fund (you can see the companies I've covered so far on this page).

Today, I'm going to take a look at mobile telecoms giant Vodafone Group (LSE: VOD), whose global expansion has made it the third-largest company in the FTSE 100.

It's good to talk

Vodafone has comprehensively outperformed the FTSE 100 in recent years, as these figures show:

Total Returns20072008200920102011Trailing 10 yr avg.
FTSE 1007.4%-28.3%27.3%12.6%-2.2%7.6%

Source: Morningstar

(Total return includes both changes to the share price and reinvested dividends. These two ingredients combined are what make it possible for equity portfolios to regularly outperform cash and bonds over the long term.)

Vodafone's trailing 10-year average total return is significantly higher than that of the FTSE 100 and the global scale of its business -- it employees 86,000 people across 30 countries -- has helped insulate from regional downturns. It also generates impressive quantities of free cash, helped in part by the dividends it receives from its 45% share of US mobile company Verizon Wireless. As a result, Vodafone has become a great dividend payer and forms a large part of many income portfolios, including mine.

What's The Score?

To help me pinpoint suitable investments, I like to score companies on key financial metrics that highlight the characteristics I look for in a retirement share. Let's see how Vodafone shapes up:

Year founded1984
Market cap£88bn
Net debt£26bn
Dividend Yield5.4%
5 year average financials
Operating margin17.3%
Interest cover7.5x
EPS growth22.2%
Dividend growth7.9%
Dividend cover2.1x

Source: Morningstar, Digital Look, Vodafone Group

Here's how I've scored Vodafone on each of these criteria:

LongevityVodafone isn't that old, but there's no doubting the future prospects for mobile telecoms.4/5
Performance vs. FTSEVodafone has a history of outperforming the leading index.5/5
Financial strengthExpansion has been fuelled by a fair amount of debt, but interest is well covered and cashflow is now positive.3/5
EPS growthEarnings per share have been volatile but look to be stabilising.3/5
Dividend growthLarge, consistent and inflation-beating, Vodafone's dividends are desirable. The main risk is that Verizon will cut its dividends.4/5

Total: 19/25

Mobile telecoms networks are rapidly becoming part of the core infrastructure of most countries, and I believe that Vodafone will remain one of the world leaders in this industry. Its score of 19/25 reflects its strong attractions and I believe that Vodafone could make an excellent contribution to a retirement fund portfolio over the next couple of decades.

Far better minds than mine think the same way, too -- Vodafone is one of the eight largest holdings of City fund manager Neil Woodford, whose stock picks have outperformed the wider index by a staggering 305% over the last 15 years.

The UK's best investor?

Neil Woodford's dividend investing style is well-suited to a retirement portfolio and has proved remarkably successful, outperforming many more aggressive growth funds over the last 15 years.

If you'd like to learn more about Neil Woodford's stock choices without investing in his funds, then you can find details of his eight biggest holdings in this free Motley Fool report. The report explains how he chose some of his biggest holdings and discusses his investment approach, which helped him avoid bank shares before the crash and has led to him managing £20bn of private investors' money -- more than any other City manager.

This report is completely free and I strongly recommend you download"8 Shares Held By Britain's Super Investor" today, as it is available for a limited time only.

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Further investment opportunities:

> Roland owns shares in Vodafone.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual writers and are not representative of The Motley Fool. If you spot any comments that are unsuitable hit the flag to alert our moderators.

ANuvver 25 Jul 2012 , 1:10pm

Vodafone isn't that old?

Considering that Voda is Racal all grownup, that gives it a history going back to 1982. Okay, Tesco it ain't, but it still has 30 years on the clock...

TheWildshot 25 Jul 2012 , 2:08pm

To add some balance to the article the Verizon dividend is not guaranteed. Last year was a special dividend with no promise of future payments.

Verizon as of yet have not stated if they will or will not pay a dividend this year.

It is fairer to assess the company on dividends from Vodafone alone. Then mention there is a potential for extra payouts if/when Verizon make dividends.

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