Oil driller ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) is benefiting from rising oil prices and rewarding investors with dividend hikes. However, the company's drilling-focused business hasn't been able to sustain a high dividend in the past, cutting the payment in 2016 amid low oil prices. This suggests that dividend investors will end up disappointed if highly volatile oil prices fall again. Here are two stocks with higher yields today and strong histories of rewarding investors through good times and bad: ExxonMobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) and The Procter & Gamble Company (NYSE:PG).
1. The energy patch's real dividend play
Exxon is one of the largest oil and natural gas companies in the world. It has increased its dividend every year for 36 consecutive years, an incredible record given the highly cyclical nature of the energy patch. Its current yield is roughly 4.2%, well above ConocoPhillips' 1.6%. A more impressive dividend history and a higher yield is a good start, but there's more to like than that.
For example, while Conoco is focused only on drilling, Exxon's business is diversified across drilling, chemicals, and refining. Although the latter two businesses aren't as large as the drilling operation, they provide an offset when oil prices are low. For example, in 2015, when Exxon's oil business experienced a 75% earnings drop, its downstream earnings more than doubled. The increase in earnings at the chemicals and refining businesses was largely related to lower input costs (falling oil prices). That wasn't enough to completely offset the impact from declining oil prices, but it softened the blow considerably. ConocoPhillips doesn't have that balance.
That said, Exxon is an industry laggard today. Its oil production has fallen over the last two years, and its return on capital employed figures have dropped into the middle of the pack after years of leading the industry. This is an opportunity for long-term investors to pick up a high yield while others are thinking short term. Exxon has a series of projects that should alleviate the production drop, including a plan to expand onshore U.S. oil and gas drilling, offshore oil in Guyana and Brazil, and natural gas in Mozambique. Meanwhile, the company is planning on taking control of more projects so it can put its expertise in running large projects to better use, and increase its return on capital employed numbers.
The plans are solid, but Exxon is a giant ship, and it will take a little time to turn it. If you're a dividend investor, forget about ConocoPhillips and pick up Exxon's much larger yield. Once Exxon starts to turn the corner, investors are likely to reward it with a higher price, and the fat yield available today will be gone.
2. This consumer giant isn't getting much respect
The next dividend stock to consider hails from outside of the oil patch: Procter & Gamble. The stock's yield is currently around 3.9%, the high end of its historical range. The dividend has been increased annually for an incredible 62 consecutive years. It has a long history of successfully creating and marketing consumer products, including megabrands like Pampers, Tide, and Bounty.
There are three big issues facing Procter & Gamble today. The first is a shift in consumer habits, as people move toward products deemed to be healthier and more natural. The company is aware of the trend and has been introducing new versions of its products to compete. The second issue is pricing competition from new delivery methods, notably in the razor category. Procter & Gamble took the one-time hit of lowering pricing in its industry-leading Gillette line, a price cut that will anniversary this year. It also introduced new delivery methods (a subscription service) to match new industry entrants.
The third issue is a bit larger: Procter & Gamble recently reshaped its business by selling off smaller, underperforming brands to focus on its best assets. The benefits of this change have been overshadowed by industrywide headwinds, leaving investors concerned that Procter & Gamble has lost its way. However, one of the main goals of the move was to improve margins. That's happened, with operating margin increasing from 18.5% in fiscal 2015 to 21.5% in fiscal 2017. It's true that industry headwinds have left organic growth weaker than hoped, but the streamlining effort is far from a failed effort.
History suggests that P&G will work through the current industry malaise and remain a dominant consumer products company. Investors willing to think long term while others are thinking short term will not only be rewarded with a fat dividend yield, but likely a higher stock price, as well, when Procter & Gamble's efforts to adjust with the times start to bear more fruit.
Investors tend to focus on the here and now a little too much, forgetting that the future is often more important. In the case of ConocoPhillips, rising oil prices are attracting investors since the driller is a direct play on the space -- with a focus on returning cash to investors via a growing dividend. But the next oil downturn is likely to lead to a dividend cut, since the company isn't diversified like higher-yielding ExxonMobil. Exxon, meanwhile, is investing for the long term and will, eventually, resolve the investor concerns that have its stock in a funk.
Procter & Gamble hails from a totally different industry than ConocoPhillips, but it's being hit by the same short-term investor mentality. Yes, the consumer products company is dealing with headwinds, but it is addressing them. History suggests it will be successful, and early results from its business overhaul are actually showing some promise. While investors are punishing the stock, pushing the yield to relative highs, you can get on board and benefit.