Dividend stocks are everywhere, but many just downright stink. In some cases, the business model is in serious jeopardy, or the dividend itself isn't sustainable. In others, the dividend is so low it's not even worth the paper your dividend check is printed on. A solid dividend strikes the right balance of growth, value, and sustainability.
Today, and one day each week for the rest of the year, we're going to look at one dividend-paying company that you can put in your portfolio for the long term without too much concern. This isn't to say these stocks don't share the same macro risks that other companies have, but they are a step above your common grade of dividend stock. See last week's selection.
This week I want to take a closer look at one of the world's largest miners, BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) , and I'll show you why it's a company you can count on for the long term.
In China we trust
As goes China, so goes the world economy. That may be a simplistic way of putting it, but China has literally put the world economy on its shoulders. Recently, China passed a $156 billion infrastructure plan which is meant to get its "below average" 7.6% GDP growth back to its 30-year-normalized average of 10%. Infrastructure plans like this are great news for large miners like BHP that supply iron ore, copper, and plenty of other metals used in heavy construction.
But things won't be easy for BHP or any miners in particular. Inflationary costs like fuel and labor are always threatening to eat into margins. In addition, mine development costs have soared in recent years. Some of the largest gold miners, including Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM ) with its Hope Bay mine in Canada, and Kinross Gold (NYSE: KGC ) with its Tasiast mine in Mauritania, were forced to take complete writedowns on their properties for the time being due to the rising cost of mine development. BHP actually needs to make a decision very soon as to whether it will go ahead with a $20 billion expansion that could double the output of its iron ore production in Western Australia.
Now that's what I call diversified
There aren't many ways to get around rising costs... unless you have a mineral portfolio as diverse as BHP Billiton's!
BHP Billiton's primary growth engine is its iron ore sales. As the No. 3 global producer of iron ore, behind only Brazil's Vale (NYSE: VALE ) and Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO ) , BHP is relying on emerging market industrialization to drive its growth for decades to come. In its most recent quarter, BHP reported a 15% jump in iron ore production that put it on an annual pace of 179 million tons. The company is targeting an annual production rate of 220 million tons by mid-2014. Vale and Rio Tinto, on the other hand, haven't been nearly as lucky. Vale's iron ore sales fell 21% in its latest quarter while Rio Tinto's iron ore production was flat. BHP is making headway in China where its peers are currently falling short.
Beyond iron ore, BHP's mining portfolio is very diverse, with copper, lead, gold, silver, zinc, and even diamonds being unearthed. Trust me, this is the abbreviated list! But, it's BHP's two other (largely unpopular) mined resources that I feel give it a long-term edge.
One is BHP's metallurgical and thermal coal operations. Coal is vehemently unpopular at present, but it still represents a primary energy source for newly industrialized nations like China and India. I see decades of growth still to come in coal from Asia and other emerging markets.
The other is BHP's oil and natural gas operations. There's been a lot of bad press and talk of writedowns thrown BHP's way for its $17 billion investment in U.S. shale gas assets in 2011, but with a rebound in natural gas prices in recent months, as well as a bright long-term outlook for the fuel within the U.S., the purchase should have no problem paying off in the end.
A gusher of a dividend
But, as I quip every week, let's get to the real reason that we're here: BHP's dividend!
Despite suffering through two recessions since 2000, BHP has managed to raise its annual dividend (paid semi-annually) in each of the past 13 years. Have a look for yourself at how quickly this dividend has matured:
Source: Nasdaq.com & Dividata; * = assumes semi-annual payout of $1.14.
No, your eyes aren't deceiving you; that is indeed a compounded dividend growth rate of 23.6% over the last 10 years! BHP's payout ratio of just 38% also leaves plenty of room for future growth even if the global economy takes a turn for the worst.
With China's growth slowing and Europe's debt crisis canceling out any hope of a quick revival in manufacturing in that region of the world, you may not immediately think of the mineral mining sector as a top investment. But given what we've learned about BHP with regard to its mineral portfolio diversity, and its outperformance relative to its peers, there's little reason to believe that BHP Billiton's dividend won't head even higher. In a world of topsy-turvy mineral investments, this is one you can comfortably sock away under your pillow for a decade or longer.
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