The U.S. presidential candidates have differing views on the energy industry, and the victor will likely have a major impact on energy policy over the next four years. That could create some distinct winners and losers in the sector.
However, some energy stocks should win no matter who sits in the Oval Office over the next four years. We asked our energy contributors which ones they believe should thrive either way. They think Clearway Energy (CWEN -2.35%) (CWEN.A), Equinor ASA (EQNR -0.38%), and Total (TTE 0.58%) will prosper no matter who is president, making them great buys ahead of the election.
Making the shift, slowly
Reuben Gregg Brewer (Total): It doesn't matter who the U.S. president is in 2021, the world is still going to be shifting away from carbon-based fuels and toward clean energy like solar and wind. It's a trend that's been going on for years, and one that will continue for decades to come. France's Total is an integrated energy giant that's looking to change along with the times.
The key, however, is that Total is in no great rush to get things done, noting that oil and natural gas are likely to remain key pieces of the global energy picture for a long time yet. Total is planning to use that fact to its advantage, steadily building a clean energy/electricity business on the foundation of its historical strength in carbon-based fuels. Along the way it intends to upgrade its oil and gas portfolio to ensure it has top-quality assets that can compete even as other energy sources expand their share of the energy pie.
Meanwhile, investors can collect a fat 9% yield from a company that has made clear that it intends to support the dividend so long as oil remains around $40 per barrel. That's roughly where it sits today, but Total expects future demand and currently dropping supply to be supportive of higher prices over the long term. Yes, there are risks here. But Total's slow transition plan looks like a good choice as it seeks to change with the times. And that's true no matter who wins in November.
A transformation in the making
Daniel Foelber (Equinor ASA): Far removed from U.S. political passions is Norway's energy giant, Equinor. The company has been extracting oil and gas out of the North Sea for decades, but its future could resemble something entirely different.
Like other energy stocks, Equinor's business is struggling to make ends meet as lower oil and gas prices have crippled its short-term earnings -- so much so that there's reason to suggest this oil giant wants to turn into a renewable energy stock.
Lower earnings, combined with the fact that management believes the company's North Sea reserves will become unprofitable by around 2030, have accelerated its push toward offshore wind. In a few weeks, Anders Opedal will take the helm as the company's new CEO and attempt to grow its renewable portfolio by 10-fold from its present capacity of 0.5 GW to between 4 GW and 6 GW by 2026. Equinor then expects to have 12 GW to 16 GW of renewable capacity by 2035.
Equinor's 8.6 GW of active and planned offshore wind projects suggests that the company could become the world's leading offshore wind energy operator. To do that, Equinor will begin ramping up its renewable spending from $0.5 billion to $1 billion in 2020 and 2021, to $2 billion to $3 billion as early as 2022.
Equinor's recent dividend cut and 5-year low revenue could mean short-term volatility for investors. But Equinor's long-term future looks bright given management's dedication to its renewable future, its existing project portfolio, and its first-mover advantage into offshore wind energy. Equinor's best guess is that it will be able to generate between 6% and 10% of unlevered project returns from its offshore wind investments.
Clean energy is the future
Matt DiLallo (Clearway Energy): Clean energy producer Clearway Energy has thrived under the Trump administration. Overall, it has generated a nearly 130% total return since election night, blowing past the S&P 500's almost 75% total return. That outperformance seems likely to continue no matter who wins the White House this November.
Powering that view is the company's increasingly visible growth plan. Thanks to its relationships with a leading private equity fund and a renewable energy project developer, it has an extensive pipeline of investment opportunities. It has already secured several wind power acquisitions and has received offers to invest in another wind project and purchase additional interests in a solar energy project. This visible growth leads Clearway to believe its surging cash flow can support an 8% increase in its 4.3%-yielding dividend next year.
The company is also exploring opportunities to co-invest in a large portfolio of renewable energy projects and participate in new natural gas-related development projects. Because of that, it should have the power to grow its cash flow to support dividend increases of 5% to 8% per year for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, there's upside to that growth potential if Joe Biden wins the presidency, given his more renewable-focused stance. If his administration incentivizes more investment in clean energy, Clearway could grow its cash flow and dividend at an even faster pace, potentially powering even higher total returns.