Like massive dividend yields? Who doesn't? Sadly, they've become a thing of the past among independent oil-and-gas exploration and production companies. While industry bigwig ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) was once able to pay a yield of more than 4%, the oil price collapse has forced it to leave the big yields to its big peers like BP (NYSE:BP).
But while no independent producer's yield can hold a candle to BP's current 6.3%, three of these oil drillers are currently yielding above 2% -- and they may even have better growth opportunities than BP. Here's what income investors need to know about ConocoPhillips, Apache (NYSE:APA), and Hess (NYSE:HES).
The biggest of the bunch
In terms of size, ConocoPhillips is the largest independent oil-and-gas exploration and production company in the world. But that size advantage didn't help it much in the wake of the oil price collapse. Conoco's stock price fell to the point that it was officially yielding more than 8%, causing management to make the tough decision to cut the dividend by almost two-thirds, from $0.74 per share to just $0.25 per share in 2016.
Today, that dividend has crept up to $0.265 per share, which amounts to a 2.1% yield. While it's just one-third of BP's, it's not too shabby for an oil production company. And Conoco may have other benefits up its sleeve for shareholders.
The company recently sold off its Canadian assets to Cenovus Energy (NYSE:CVE) -- which itself has a decent 1.5% yield -- for $13.3 billion. COP plans to use the proceeds to pay down its significant debt load. It also plans to buy back shares, which is good news for shareholders, as it would increase the value of their shares and also boost earnings on a per-share basis. Things seem to be looking up for Conoco, and its decent dividend only strengthens the value proposition.
Down but not out
ConocoPhillips is actually having a comparatively good year in terms of its stock-price performance. The company's stock is only down 0.5% so far in 2017. Contrast that with Hess stock, which has dropped more than 25% so far this year. That's given it a current 2.1% yield, and it hasn't had to slash its dividend.
Hess is something of an odd duck among U.S. oil and gas producers in that it doesn't have any operations in the Permian Basin (or elsewhere in Texas). Hess's onshore operations in the U.S. are confined to North Dakota's Bakken shale, where it is a major player, and a single joint venture in northeast Ohio. Aside from another joint venture in Libya, the rest of the company's plays are all offshore.
The company often shares these offshore plays with partners like BP. And it's currently partnering with ExxonMobil on an exciting new field off the coast of Guyana. That play could be a gold mine for Exxon and Hess investors alike.
Also, the company has an excellent balance sheet, with a low leverage ratio compared to its peers. All of these factors add up to make Hess a good prospect for energy investors.
On the verge
Hess has operations all over the globe except Texas, but rival Apache Corporation is in almost the opposite situation. It has narrowed its focus down to three areas, including Texas. Apache -- like Conoco -- recently sold off its Canadian operations to focus on the North Sea, Egypt, and its massive new "Alpine High" play in the Permian Basin.
But while Apache has been installing needed infrastructure so that production can ramp up at Alpine High, its overall production numbers have predictably fallen. The market hasn't been forgiving, walloping Apache so much that its stock has dropped 27.6% this year, one of the worst drops in the industry.
That drop, though, has boosted Apache's dividend yield to a best-in-class 2.2%. And management is predicting that production numbers will start to increase in earnest in the third quarter. The company still has quite a bit of debt on its balance sheet, but it has steadily been paying it down over the last two years. Also, like Hess, Apache has not had to cut its dividend since the oil price crash. All this makes Apache look like one of the best bargains in the sector for growth and value investors alike.
With yields above 2%, ConocoPhillips, Hess, and Apache are also beaten-down stocks that are poised to see their share prices rise when their production numbers improve, or if oil prices rise. Of course, with price appreciation comes a lower dividend yield, so investors should be prepared for that possibility.
But whether investors hope to benefit from the dividend, from share-price appreciation, or both, these three companies are well worth considering as part of a diversified portfolio.