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Two days ago, under pressure from the White House, BP (NYSE: BP ) announced that it was cancelling its first-quarter dividend and suspending dividends until at least 2011. That's disappointing news for shareholders who rely on that income – BP is widely owned by pension funds in the U.K. and the U.S.
What the market says
Unfortunately, the bad news doesn't end there. There is reason to believe that once BP resumes dividend payouts, the dividend amount will be significantly lower than it has been over the last two years. In fact, the market expects that BP's 2011 dividends will total just $1.26 – nearly a two-thirds decline from the $3.36 it paid out last year.
What market, you ask? The dividend swaps market. Just as credit default swaps strip out the default risk from among bond risks, and enable investors to hedge it or speculate on it, dividend swaps strip out the dividend return from shares' total return.
What the brokers say
Perhaps BP will be able to restore even more of its dividend than the swaps market fears. Two brokers, Citigroup and Collins Stewart, expect BP to reinstitute its payout at $0.42 per quarter, or $1.68 for the full year 2011. At that level, the dividend payouts combined with contributions to the $20 billion spill fund would equal the dividend payouts prior to the incident, according to Collins Stewart. In addition, that would imply a prospective dividend yield of 5.4% -- comparable to the current yields of Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A ) and Total (NYSE: TOT ) , both at 6.2%.
Of course, for investors who owned BP prior to the disaster, a "comparable" yield offers scant comfort, since it's based on a share price slashed nearly in half. Investors looking at BP right now probably aren't primarily concerned with the level of its future dividend. BP is no longer a "widows and orphans" stock that investors might purchase for the income return – it has become a special situation/ deep value play.
Three proper dividend stocks
Finally, for investors who are looking for dividend stocks among integrated oil and gas companies, I would suggest Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) , ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) , or Total instead. With shares trading at single-digit forward earnings multiples (OK, we're cheating a little -- ExxonMobil is at 10.0), their dividend yields are well-anchored.
You don't need to stick to the oil patch for high-quality dividend stocks. Jordan DiPietro has found the best dividend stock. Period.