Is RSA The Ultimate Retirement Share?

Published in Company Comment on 10 September 2012

Will shares in RSA Insurance 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 RSA Insurance Group (LSE: RSA), the insurance giant formerly known as Royal Sun Alliance that currently offers investors the second-highest yield in the FTSE 100, a whopping 8%.

Insuring a profit?

Let's take a look at how RSA has performed against the FTSE 100 over the last 10 years. It isn't a very inspiring picture:

Total Return20072008200920102011Trailing 10 yr avg.
FTSE 1007.4%-28.3%27.3%12.6%-2.2%7.3%

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.)

RSA's performance against the FTSE has been pretty poor, with only its high dividend yield preventing a negative total return over the last 10 years. Yet throughout this period, RSA has remained solidly profitable and its generous dividends have provided investors with an attractive income. So has it been unfairly penalised by the market?

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 RSA shapes up:

Year founded1996*
Market cap£4.1bn
Net debt£1.3bn
Dividend Yield8.0%
5 year average financials
Operating margin9.6%
Interest covern/a
EPS growth-1.8%
Dividend growth14%
Dividend cover1.96x

Source: Morningstar, Digital Look, RSA

*Royal Insurance Holdings and Sun Alliance merged to form RSA in 1996, but the Sun business has a history stretching back to 1710, giving the business a 300-year heritage.

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

LongevityThis business insured the homes of Captain James Cook and Charles Darwin, but has merged several times since.4/5
Performance vs. FTSEFailed to deliver earnings growth in recent years.3/5
Financial strengthNo obvious problems.4/5
EPS growthFailure to grow EPS could lie behind poor share price performance.2/5
Dividend growthHigh yield and strong growth, sensibly covered.5/5
Total: 18/25

RSA's score of 18/25 reflects its apparently sound fundamentals and its generous and consistent dividend policy -- ideal for a retirement share. Despite this, RSA's current yield of 8% cannot last forever. As with its UK peer, Aviva (LSE: AV), either the dividend will be cut or the share price will be re-rated. As with Aviva, I believe that the share price will eventually recover as poor investor sentiment and economic headwinds abate.

Naturally, there is a risk to this approach -- but even if RSA's dividend was halved, its yield would still be higher than the FTSE 100 average, providing a respectable income from a company with a very long history of successfully doing business in this sector.

Expert selections

Doing your own research is important, but another way of identifying great dividend-paying shares is to study the choices of successful professional investors. One of the most successful income investors currently working in the City is fund manager Neil Woodford, who manages more money for private investors than any other City manager. Neil Woodford's dividend stock picks outperformed the wider index by a staggering 305% in the 15 years to 31 December 2011.

You can learn about Neil Woodford's top holdings and how he generates such fantastic profits in this free Motley Fool report. Many of Mr Woodford's choices look like excellent retirement shares to me and the report explains how he chose some of his biggest holdings.

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 Aviva but does not own shares in RSA Insurance Group.

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