LONDON -- It's official: Sterling is now the world's ugliest currency. If the British pound was a person, it would lock itself indoors out of shame. But this could be an opportunity for U.K. investors, because a handful of FTSE 100 stocks pay their dividends in dollars and euros, which are looking a lot more attractive right now. Does this make these stocks a beautiful investment?
With the pound falling to an eight-month low against the greenback, who wouldn't want to receive their income in dollars right now? If you invest in mining giant BHP Billiton (LSE: BLT ) , that's exactly what you get. It currently yields 3.4%, safely covered 2.9 times, and generously paid in greenbacks, which means your income is worth 3% more year to date. With some analysts suggesting the pound could fall by anything up to 20% in 2013, there could be a lot more to follow. Better still, because BHP Billiton is listed on the FTSE 100, you are buying with pounds and getting dollars in return. Now that is beautiful.
I can see plenty of other reasons to buy this globally diversified miner. BHP Billiton's strategy is to invest in large, long-life, low-cost, expandable, upstream assets, spread across different commodities regions and markets. This makes it a diversified and relatively defensive stock (for a miner). I wouldn't call it low-risk, though. It remains a play on global growth in general, and Chinese growth in particular, both of which remain shaky. The recent bull run has left BHP Billiton looking more expensive than it was, with the share price of 23% since last June to 21 pounds. But it has dipped slightly, tracking metals prices lower. A little more slippage, and you might find the perfect time to serve yourself a dollop of dollar dividends.
Royal Dutch Shell
Investors in Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell (LSE: RDSB ) (NYSE: RDS-B ) were already enjoying its juicy 4.6% yield, but the slump in the value of the pound has made it that little bit tastier. I have been holding this oil and gas giant for years, but recent share-price growth has been disappointing. The vertically integrated oil majors don't automatically benefit from high oil prices because they have deliberately reduced their exposure by diversifying into storage, transportation, refining, chemical processing, and retailing. I still think Shell has a great long-term future, especially if it is correct in forecasting that global natural gas demand will increase by 60% from 2010 to 2030. With exploration interests as far apart as China, South Africa, and Ukraine, Shell has a place in every investor's portfolio. Especially today, when it trades at less than 9 times earnings. Analysts; consensus are putting its Q4 profits at 4 billion pounds, a 2.5% increase from 3.9 billion pounds in Q3. Now looks like a good time to buy Shell. After that, you can sit back and let the dollars roll in.
Unilever (LSE: ULVR ) (NYSE: UL ) is another Anglo-Dutch success story, and much more loved by markets. This purveyor of everyday household goods has enjoyed almost constant share-price growth since the financial crisis, and now it looks that little bit more attractive, once you remember its dividends are paid in euros. That didn't look so clever last year, when the single currency was looking sickly, and even the pound was hanging tough by comparison, but it looks a lot brighter now. Investors today get a yield of 3.8%, but that's worth 8.5% more to U.K. investors than it was last July, when the pound briefly hit 1.28 euros (it's now below 1.17 euros). That euro-denominated yield certainly isn't the main reason to invest in Unilever. It is a well-managed company selling many popular products, and it's now selling them to swaths of emerging-market consumers. This isn't a get-rich-quick stock -- earnings-per-share growth looks modest at 2% and 8% over the next couple of years, and it trades at around 18 times earnings. But you should get rich slowly, which is possibly even better.
Five more to think about
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