European Oil Stocks Are a Haven For Income Seekers

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Big Oil is big business, and while most investors likely know the usual suspects among the U.S.-based energy giants, European peers may have more to offer investors.

That's because as opposed to their American counterparts, European energy giants are willing to send their shareholders larger portions of their profits, in the form of heftier dividend yields. If you're an investor who craves income, these energy titans may have more for you than the U.S. oil majors.

Huge yields from across the pond
Whereas most U.S.-based oil companies pay between 3% and 4% dividend yields, you can secure much higher distributions from international competitors.

For instance, London-based BP (NYSE: BP  ) has had its stock price weighed down for obvious reasons over the past few years. The company is still battling the financial and environmental devastation caused by the infamous 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

It's true that BP's profits have been adversely affected by the spill, and likely will be for the foreseeable future. At the same time, BP has shed assets in preparation for this—divesting $38 billion in all—leaving the company with financial cushioning as well as a more focused, stronger set of assets.

Moreover, the company is proceeding full-speed ahead with new growth initiatives, including major exploration finds in India and the acquisition of new acreage in Norway, Brazil, and China. All the while, BP has increased its dividend at strong rates since it resumed dividend payments in 2011, and thanks to its suppressed share price, BP's yield is now 5.25%.

If you're interested in high-yielding European oil majors that don't share BP's enhanced headline risk, you should consider Total (NYSE: TOT  ) or Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-B  ) .  Both France-based Total and Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell pay 5% dividends to shareholders.  And, both stocks have proven a track record of consistent profitability and have increased their dividends on a regular basis.

Total's second-quarter profits slipped 3%, as a result of weak oil and gas prices. On the other hand, oil prices have spiked in recent weeks due to ongoing geopolitical tensions in Syria and elsewhere, meaning Total may be on the cusp of increased profitability.  Furthermore, Total management points to several initiatives for investors to be optimistic about going forward. This year, the company secured a number of projects aligned with its long-term growth plans, including new developments in Africa and Australia.

Royal Dutch Shell had a difficult quarter itself, but don't be fooled: the long-term fundamentals of its business are sound. The company's poor quarter was due largely to attacks on its operations in Nigeria, in addition to a significant writedown of its North American shale oil fields.

Short-term struggles haven't discouraged management from increasing shareholder rewards in recent periods. Royal Dutch Shell upped its already-generous dividend earlier this year. Likewise, Total's steady production allowed it to increase its quarterly dividend by 3% in euros per share, year over year.

The Foolish bottom line
Investors looking for solid income in today's market of low interest rates and rising stock prices can find a dividend haven in the form of European energy majors. Securing a well-cushioned 5% yield is hard to do these days, so these stocks may be especially attractive for investors looking to derive meaningful income from their stock investments.

BP is the riskiest play at this point, due to its precarious position of likely paying billions more in damages stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill. The Gulf spill required BP to suspend its dividend, which likely left a bad taste in investors' mouths. At the same time, BP has not only resumed dividend payments, but increased its payout at much faster rates than Royal Dutch Shell and Total in recent years.

Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell and Total offer comparable dividend yields as BP but without the near-term headline risk. While I believe all three stocks will reward investors handsomely over the long-term, risk-averse investors should probably prefer Royal Dutch Shell and Total in the current environment.

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  • Report this Comment On September 05, 2013, at 1:53 PM, BCSkier wrote:

    This article fails to mention anything about foreign withholding taxes on dividends. France for example, if you are a U.S. citizen and have shares in TOT, you will be paying a 30% withholding tax on your dividends. Good thing is you can deduct a lot of that from your taxable account, but if you hold positions in a non-taxable account like an IRA, you cannot get any of those withholding taxes deducted.

  • Report this Comment On September 09, 2013, at 10:58 AM, rciura wrote:

    BCSkier,

    Thank you for bringing up foreign withholding taxes, which I agree is an important consideration when investing in international equities. Thanks for commenting and Fool on!

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