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2 Energy Stocks I'd Buy Right Now

By Reuben Gregg Brewer – Nov 23, 2018 at 8:32AM

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The energy industry is changing, but this pair of high-yield stocks covers the space and pays you well to own them.

The energy industry encompasses a broad spectrum of companies, but is often associated with just oil companies. That's too narrow a view of the world: For income-focused investors, there are plenty of options to consider when you look at the entire energy sector.

Today, ExxonMobil Corporation (XOM -0.87%) and Dominion Energy, Inc. (D -3.29%) provide diversified energy exposure and reward you with big dividends. If you like dividends and want exposure to energy stocks, this pair is a great starting point.

1. The Oil Giant

Exxon is one of the world's largest integrated oil and natural gas companies. The word integrated is important here, because it means that Exxon drills for oil and gas, known as the upstream, and also refines that gas into chemicals and fuels, which is the downstream sector. This diversification provides broad exposure to the oil and gas market, along with balance within the portfolio, as falling oil and gas prices tend to benefit the downstream sector. These fuels are key inputs into the refining and chemicals businesses. And while oil is a somewhat out of favor fuel environmentally speaking, natural gas is increasingly important in the electric utility space because it is a cleaner alternative to coal. Exxon has been increasing its scale in natural gas, slowly shifting its business with the end markets it serves.

The word yield spelled out with dice placed atop piles of coins.

Image source: Getty Images

In addition to a diversified business, Exxon is also one of the most financially conservative integrated energy giants. Long-term debt makes up just under 10% of its capital structure. That would be a low number for any company, but is particularly noteworthy for a company highly reliant on volatile commodity prices. And with 36 years of annual dividend hikes behind it, the company has proven that it can handle the cyclical ups and downs of the oil space while still rewarding investors well for sticking around. No other integrated oil major can match Exxon's dividend history.

Now is also a great time to buy Exxon, because its conservative nature has left it a little out of step with the broader oil and gas peer group. Specifically, the company's production has been falling for a couple of years. When oil prices collapsed in mid-2014, being conservative, diversified, and slow moving was a good thing. But oil prices have recovered from their lows, and oil-focused peers with growing production have benefited more from higher energy prices than Exxon. Investors have picked up on this, and the stock hasn't been a great performer. Exxon's yield is near 25-year highs, and its price to tangible book value is near 25-year lows.

XOM Dividend Yield (TTM) Chart

XOM Dividend Yield (TTM) data by YCharts

Exxon has plans to fix the problem, but true to its conservative nature it's focusing on high value production over quick fixes. Its goals stretch out to 2025, which is a long time to wait for big projects in liquified natural gas, offshore oil drilling, and onshore U.S. drilling to start panning out. But with a 4% yield, roughly twice what you'd get from an S&P 500 Index fund, you are getting paid very well to stick around. And with such a conservative, diversified business, there's little question that Exxon will execute on its plan even if oil prices fall again.

2. Electricity and more

Electricity is the other side of the energy industry, and is getting more and more attention. Part of that is the trend of oil giants like Total and Royal Dutch Shell investing in the space. But owning Exxon and a utility like Dominion Energy is a better bet than buying an oil major that's dabbling in the utility space.

Dominion is one of the largest U.S. utilities. Its business spans the regulated electric and natural gas utility spaces, energy transmission (both high voltage power lines and midstream oil and natural gas pipelines), and renewable power (including a renewable merchant power business). In other words, like Exxon, Dominion provides broad and diversified exposure to the energy industry, only this time with an electric bent.

At its core, Dominion is actually a pretty boring company. Regulated utilities are granted monopolies, but have to get rates approved by the government. That tends to lead to slow and steady growth over time, with rate increases approved based on capital spending plans. Dominion currently intends to spend around $11 billion between 2019 and 2021, mostly on regulated businesses, which it expects to lead to annualized earnings growth of around 6% to 8%. Dividend growth should come in close to earnings growth and extend the company's 15-year dividend streak along the way.

Investors, meanwhile, will collect a 4.5% yield if they buy today. That's toward the high end of the utility industry's range, because there's a lot of moving parts at Dominion right now. For example, it's trying to acquire SCANA Corp, a smaller, financially troubled rival. Its plan to use a controlled limited partnership to raise growth capital hasn't worked out as, well, planned, and it's now buying that partnership back. And, because of that issue, it has been forced to adjust its funding plans. These issues increase near-term uncertainty, but don't really change the long-term picture.

D Dividend Yield (TTM) Chart

D Dividend Yield (TTM) data by YCharts

For the most part, Dominion has been executing well across the board too. First off, the SCANA deal isn't needed to support the current earnings and dividend growth projections -- but it will boost growth if completed. That said, Dominion has stated that it won't consummate the deal if regulators ask for too many changes to its proposed deal. That makes this uncertainty a neutral issue at worst.

On the funding side, meanwhile, Dominion has made strong progress selling non-core assets and adding debt at subsidiaries to come up with the cash it needs to keep growing. In fact, the asset sales have allowed it to focus more intently on its regulated and fee-based businesses, which makes the overall business, and the dividend, that much safer. If you can handle a little uncertainty, now appears to be a good time to act.

Thinking long-term

Short-term investors look at Exxon and Dominion and see companies that are out of favor. But investors who can think longer term will see high-yield opportunities at companies with long histories of rewarding investors over time. Yes, there are some warts. With plans to fix the issues, however, Exxon and Dominion are great opportunities in the energy space. If you combine the pair, meanwhile, you'll get broad exposure to the entire energy industry, along with over 4% yields.

Reuben Gregg Brewer owns shares of Dominion Energy, Inc and ExxonMobil. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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