After prices rising for nearly two straight years, volatility has returned to the oil patch in the past month. That slump has taken most oil stocks down with it, including oil giants Occidental Petroleum (OXY -1.04%), ExxonMobil (XOM -0.87%), and Chevron (CVX -2.35%), which have all declined more than 10% from their recent highs. One of the benefits of those sell-offs is that they have pushed these companies' dividend yields even higher. Because of that, investors get paid well as they wait for oil prices to rebound.
Reset to run on $40 oil
Occidental Petroleum reached a key milestone in the second quarter of this year when it completed its low-oil-price breakeven plan. The company is now in the position that it can generate enough cash flow on $40 oil to cover its 4.3%-yielding dividend as well as finance the new wells needed to maintain its current production rate. Meanwhile, with oil in the $50s, which is where it is today, the company can produce enough cash to grow production at a 5% to 8% annual rate.
By achieving its breakeven plan, Occidental Petroleum has further enhanced the long-term sustainability of its dividend. So the company will likely be able to continue growing its payout, which it has done in each of the last 16 years. That growing income stream will enable investors to reap a nice reward as they patiently wait for oil prices to improve.
A plan to expand
ExxonMobil has big plans for the future. The oil giant unveiled its long-term strategy earlier this year, which would see it grow its production rate from around 4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (BOE/D) up to an average of 5 million BOE/D by 2025. Even better, that plan would double earnings and cash flow over that period, assuming no change in oil prices from 2017's level.
Exxon's strategy to grow its profitability in the coming years should give it more fuel to increase its 4.2%-yielding dividend, which is something the company has done for the past 36 years. Meanwhile, there's ample upside to that plan, since the company isn't assuming any improvement in oil prices. So Exxon's stock could deliver high-octane total returns in the coming years if oil prices cooperate.
Putting a priority on the dividend
One of Chevron's top goals over the past few years has been to generate enough cash to maintain and grow its 3.8%-yielding dividend, which it has done for the last 30 years. Looking forward, the oil company's strategy won't change all that much. While Chevron plans to grow its production at a 4% to 7% annual pace off 2017's base by 2020, its priority is to increase the dividend, not production.
However, while Chevron aims to continue boosting its payout in the years ahead, the company remains well positioned to benefit from higher oil prices. That's because it's working to grow production that expands margins, which means focusing on investing in oil-linked projects. Therefore, the company has the potential to produce significant free cash flow if oil prices rise in the future, which would give it more money to send back to investors, likely through additional share repurchases.
Great oil stocks for income-seeking investors
Occidental Petroleum, ExxonMobil, and Chevron all pay well-above-average dividends that they've increased year in and year out no matter what has happened to oil prices. That steady growth appears poised to continue in the years ahead, because each company has a plan to prosper at lower oil prices. That makes them great oil stocks for patient investors, since they get paid well while they wait for oil to improve.