Markets started 2020 with a 5% gain on the S&P 500. It’s a fine cap to start the year, but will it last? Not so sure; Wall Street is predicting a far more modest run in 2020, with the end-year targets averaging just a 2% gain.
The outlook reflects relative risk assessment, rather than depression. With the coronavirus outbreak, and a US Presidential election just nine months away, 2020 is starting out with plenty of uncertainty on the horizon.
That uncertainty has investors worried, and when investors get worried they look for a safety net in their investment strategy. It’s a draw that naturally pulls them to dividend stocks. Dividend stocks don’t offer the same high share appreciation as growth stocks, but they do offer a steady income stream. And when markets are volatile, a steady income stream is a hot commodity.
With this in mind, analysts from Minnesota-based investment firm Piper Sandler have tagged three energy stocks as particularly noteworthy, offering investors a valuable combination of high dividends, and even higher upsides. Using the Stock Comparison tool from TipRanks, we can look at these three tickers, side by side, comparing their attributes. All are Buy-rated with dividend payouts exceeding 5%, and show an upside between 20% and 45%.
Black Stone Minerals (BSM)
We’ll start with Black Stone, a Houston-based oil and gas exploration and development company. Black Stone controls over 20 million acres across 40 states, but the bulk of its operations are in the South (Alabama-Mississippi, Louisiana-Arkansas, Texas-Oklahoma) and the Northern Plains (Montana-North Dakota). The company also has a presence in the Appalachian gas fields of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Black Stone’s ability to continue making money in the current environment was clear in the last quarterly report. The company beat the earnings forecast by 10%, reporting 32 cents per share on revenues of $137.4 million. The free cash flow reached $89.2 million, marking the fifth quarter in a row of FCF gains. BSM reports Q4 2019 on February 24 and is expected to show 26 cents EPS.
Investors should note the rising FCF. Black Stone has used that money, at least in part, to fund a high dividend. The company pays out 30 cents per share quarterly, or $1.20 annually, which may not sound like much – but the yield is impressive at 11.4%. That’s almost 6 times the average yield among S&P companies. The payout ratio is 93%, indicating that BSM pays back most of its profits to shareholders – and that the payment is sustainable in current conditions.
Piper Sandler analyst Pearce Hammond looks at BSM in the context of the gas industry generally, and draws a bullish conclusion. He writes, “While natural gas headwinds might intensify further in coming months, we believe this negativity is largely reflected in the unit price and there is a favorable risk/reward tradeoff… Most important, nothing cures low prices like low prices, and we expect declining natural gas drilling combined with further demand growth to result in improving natural gas s/d fundamentals over the next twelve months.”
In short, Hammond sees BSM in position to grow this year, and puts an $18 price target behind his Buy rating. That target indicates a 75% upside potential. (To watch Hammond’s track record, click here)
Black Stone’s Moderate Buy consensus rating is derived from 2 recent Buy reviews – and 3 Holds. Opinions are mixed on this stock, but note that even the low-ball price target estimate is higher than the current share price. The average target, $14.90, suggests room for 45% upside growth. (See Black Stone stock analysis on TipRanks)
BP PLC (BP)
Our next stock is a $123 billion staple of the oil industry, BP. This is the sixth largest oil and gas company globally, and brought in over $300 billion in calendar 2018 revenues. The low prices plaguing the industry through 2019 pushed hard on the bottom line, however, and BP’s 2019 profits were down 21%.
At the same time, despite the slip, the $10 billion profit reported beat the forecast of $9.7 billion. Looking ahead, there are indications that production cuts by OPEC – in the range of 500,000 barrels per day – could help improve the supply-demand situation in 2020. Should OPEC be successful in its moves to push prices back toward $60 per barrel, companies like BP would see immediate gains. That would be a welcome change from the 13% price drop in Brent crude over the past 12 months.
Despite the low prices and decline in profits, BP has maintained its dividend. The company announced a 63-cent quarterly payment this month, making the annual payout $2.52 and the yield a strong 6.6%. BP has been raising the dividend payment modestly over the past 4 years.
Writing on the stock after the earnings report, Piper Sandler’s Ryan Todd reiterated his $47 price target and Buy rating. He was particularly impressed by the dividend, writing, “…while 2020 guidance was largely in line, capex again at the low end of the guided range combined with success to date on disposals should set the stage for a coming ramp in shareholder distributions… the [dividend] raise was modest, [and] represents the second sequential (annual) bump to the dividend and management’s commitment to growing shareholder distributions going forward.”
Todd’s price target suggests a 26% upside to BP shares. (To watch Todd’s track record, click here)
BP is another Moderate Buy, according to the analyst consensus view. The stock has received 2 Buy ratings and 1 Hold in recent weeks. Shares are priced at $36.54, and the average target of $45 implies an upside of 23%. (See BP stock analysis on TipRanks)
Total SA (TOT)
Our final stock on the list, like BP, is a ‘Supermajor,’ one of the few giant companies that collectively are called “Big Oil.” Total has a $128 billion market cap, brings in some $200 billion in annual revenue, and sees more than $11 billion in net profit.
Where BP has been facing lower quarterly earnings, TOT’s quarterlies are rising. In Q4, the company saw $1.19 EPS, for a 1% year-over-gain and a 5% sequential gain. The rising earnings came even as total revenues slipped. The top-line number was down 6% year-over-year, to $49.3 billion – another indication of the impact low prices have on the sector.
Total’s oil production in the fourth quarter was 3.113 billion barrels per day, up 8% from the year before, while gas production showed a 4% gain to 7.264 billion cubic feet. The company saw an 8% decrease in realized oil prices, and a 25% drop in gas prices, over the course of 2019. Total ended Q4 2019 with $27.4 billion cash on hand, essentially flat year-over-year.
The company has been using its cash to boost shares, with a $1.75 billion share buyback in 2019. Going forward, management expects to buy back $2 billion worth of shares in 2020. These buybacks are part of a planned program, in place for the 2018 to 2020 time horizon, totaling $5 billion.
Along with share buybacks, TOT pays out a reliable quarterly dividend. The annualized payment, at $2.93, makes the yield 5.99%. For investors, the best feature of the dividend is the payout ratio. At 51%, it’s high enough to show a company commitment to paying back shareholders, while not so high to spark worries about sustainability.
Analyst Ryan Todd, quoted above on BP, also reviewed TOT. He believes that this company is the best option for investors looking for an oil play, writing, “While not immune to macro headwinds, the combination of above average production growth and high-margin project starts managed to hold earnings flat YoY in a peer group showing material declines – outperformance that we expect to continue in 2020. We continue to view Total as best positioned to support both top-line growth and upside to growing shareholder returns.”
Todd reiterated his Buy rating on the stock, and set a $68 price target. His target suggests a robust 36% upside for Total over the coming 12 months.
TOT is the only stock in this list with a Strong Buy analyst consensus. This rating is based on 4 Buys and 1 Hold set recently. The stock is trading at $49.81, and the average price target of $67.31 indicates room for 30% upside growth potential. (See TOT stock analysis on TipRanks)