Medtronic stock: It's OK if you have a strong heart

Q: Is Medtronic mdt a buy for the long term?

A: When you read about how the average lifespan of humans is getting longer, Medtronic is a big reason for that.

The company makes medical devices that help treat everything from diabetes to heart and spinal issues.

But while the company's products help patients feel better, investors who owned Medtronic's stock during the bear market don't feel much better.

At first, it looked as if they would sidestep the bear. Shares of Medtronic hovered in the $55 range in October 2007, as the bear market started, only to fall in November but largely recover in August 2008.

But Medtronic's shares have been vulnerable lately. Shares hit a 52-week high of $56.97 in August, and have since fallen to around $34.

Part of Medtronic's wild stock action has to do with the fact it's in the relatively defensive area of health care. When investors start feeling optimistic about the economy, they may sell medical stocks like Medtronic so they can buy into industries perceived to have a greater shot as faster growth.

Even so, Medtronic has been a strong performer over the years and deserves a closer look. Putting the stock through the four steps considered here:

Step 1: Risk vs. reward. When you take a risk on a stock, you want to make sure you're properly rewarded. Downloading Medtronic's trading history back to 1980, we see the company generated an average annual compound rate of price appreciation of 20.6%. This is a high return; the S&P 500 posted a 10.1% average annual return in the same time frame, says

But here's the rub. If you owned Medtronic, you accepted higher risk — standard deviation — of 39.8 percentage points. That's much higher than the 15.5 percentage point risk of the S&P 500 during the period. So to get a 104% higher return you accepted 157% higher risk. That's not a great tradeoff.

Step 2: Measure the stock's discounted cash flow. Some investors decide if a stock is pricey by comparing its current price to the present value of its expected cash flows. It's a complicated analysis made simple with a system from NewConstructs. When I run Medtronic's stock, I find it's rated "attractive." In other words, the stock is inexpensive relative to the cash the company is expected to generate over its lifetime.

Step 3: Compare the stock's current valuation to its historical range. BetterInvesting's Stock Selection Guide can help. If the company can increase earnings 13.4% a year the next five years, as analysts expect, that would put the stock in the "buy" range. That's a green light for investors who believe the price-to-earnings ratio will return to historical norms. Investors must also believe the company can maintain a high growth rate.

Step 4: Check the company's financial health. Before investing in a company, you want to make sure it's in good financial shape. A quick way to check is to look at where it falls on the USA TODAY Stock Meter, which ranks stocks from conservative (1) to aggressive (5). Medtronic scores a solid 1.6 here. You can get a Stock Meter score for almost any stock by going to and putting the stock's ticker symbol or name into the Get a Quote box.

Bottom line: If you're the gambling type, looking for an interesting short-term play, you might take a closer look, as the stock appears to be attractively priced in the short term. It passes three of the four tests considered here with flying colors. But longer-term, I have my doubts because of the volatility. The stock tends to have ups-and-downs greater than the stock market and the extra return you get for that additional risk isn't adequate.

Matt Krantz is a financial markets reporter at USA TODAY and author of Investing Online for Dummies. He answers a different reader question every weekday in his Ask Matt column at To submit a question, e-mail Matt at Click here to see previous Ask Matt columns. Follow Matt on Twitter at: