The stock market has taken a huge blow from the coronavirus pandemic, and energy stocks have faced a double-hit from the associated plunge in crude oil prices. That's put many energy companies in a fight for their lives, and they've had to take drastic measures to ensure that they have enough capital to maintain their debt and still operate effectively.
Some energy stocks have decided to pass some of the pain on to their shareholders by cutting their dividends. Reduced payouts mean keeping more cash for use internally, but it comes at the price of losing investors' trust.
But other companies in the energy sector are fighting back. Rather than suffering dividend cuts, they're doubling down on their shareholder-friendly policies, assuring investors that they'll do everything they can to defend their dividends. Let's look at three of those stocks to see how they intend to keep their quarterly payouts coming for investors.
Chevron (NYSE:CVX) is one of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world, and it also has a strong reputation as a dividend giant. Dating back to the late 1980s, Chevron has managed to increase the amount it pays in dividends every single year. With a current payout of $1.29 per share every quarter, Chevron's dividend yield is above 8%, given the dramatic drop in its stock price recently.
On Tuesday, Chevron gave details on its plans to defend its dividend in light of rock-bottom crude oil prices. The company suspended the share repurchases that it was doing, closing off one way for it to return capital to shareholders. Yet it also decided to cut its capital spending plans for 2020 by $4 billion, and it's planning to reduce production in the key Permian Basin region by 20% this year. That should add to the $1 billion in operating cost savings it's looking to find.
CFO Pierre Breber made it clear what the motivations for the moves were. "Our focus is on protecting the dividend, prioritizing capital that drives long-term value, and supporting the balance sheet." Investors were pleased with the news, sending Chevron's stock sharply higher following the announcement.
EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) has taken an unusual strategy toward the oil and gas drilling industry lately, and it's paid off in a big way. Rather than simply trying to pull as much oil and gas out of the ground as quickly as possible, EOG instead sought to focus on the assets that would produce the best returns. That emphasis has helped EOG reduce capital costs compared to its peers even before the coronavirus pandemic started -- and it led the company to boost its 2020 dividend by 30% from 2019 levels.
With oil prices having fallen further, EOG has made some changes to the capital plan it released in late February. However, it made clear that it has enough net cash to fund capital expenditures and dividend payments throughout 2020, assuming that oil prices can reach the mid-$30s throughout the year. Production volumes won't grow year over year as previously expected, but the prudent move highlights what CEO Bill Thomas said as EOG's vision: "Our first priority is to generate high returns with every dollar we spend, even at low oil prices." That approach should help EOG maintain its 4% dividend yield.
Lastly, Diamondback Energy (NASDAQ:FANG) is another relatively small energy producer dealing with the specter of low oil prices. Like EOG, Diamondback impressed investors in February with its late 2019 performance, which featured better earnings than expected and a decision to double its dividend payout. Going forward, Diamondback said it would pay $0.375 per share quarterly in 2020.
After oil prices dropped, Diamondback had to reassess its capital budget and activity levels. The company slashed capital spending by more than 40%, with similar drops for its infrastructure and midstream spending budgets. As a result, Diamondback expects to have lower production in 2020.
Yet CEO Travis Stice was adamant in explaining the cost-based decisions. "Diamondback is focused on protecting its balance sheet, dividend, and people," Stice said. Even with low oil prices, Diamondback appears ready to fight hard against any harm to its shareholders' payouts.
These days, it's hard to be able to count on dividend stocks being able to keep making their payouts. Yet even amid unprecedented conditions throughout the economy, Diamondback, EOG, and Chevron are doing everything they can to defend their dividends and give their shareholders the income they need in these tough times.