The upcoming presidential election could have big implications for energy stocks. That's because the energy plans of President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are nearly polar opposites. Thus, there's an implication that the winner will have an outsized impact on the sector over the next four years.
However, some energy stocks should win no matter who emerges the victor on election night. Three companies our energy contributors believe can thrive either way are Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A)(NYSE:RDS.B), Total (NYSE:TOT), and NextEra Energy Partners (NYSE:NEP). Here's why.
Moving away from oil
Daniel Foelber (Royal Dutch Shell): Buying shares of an oil major before a presidential election has its risks. U.S. energy policy on fracking and carbon emissions could change based on which political party takes control of the executive branch and the Senate. But in Shell's case, there's reason to believe the company would benefit no matter who wins the election.
In a recent interview posted on Shell's website, CEO Ben van Beurden discussed Shell's plans to reduce emissions, cut oil production, shut down all but 10 or fewer of its refineries, and increase its dedication to carbon-neutral natural gas and liquified natural gas (LNG), renewables, and other alternative energy sources. Part of the discussion involved thousands of job cuts over the next two years as Shell shifts to carbon neutrality. The layoffs are the latest savings measure in a series of cuts this year which have included reducing the dividend by two-thirds, suspending share buybacks, and cutting spending. Combined, they should save the company over $27 billion per year.
If Washington turns favorable on oil or prices rebound, Shell's oil and gas business will benefit in the short term. If Washington turns sour on oil and prices keep going down, Shell can further validate its strategic shift on the grounds that oil and gas is a failing business. With shares near a 20-year low and a dividend yield of 5.2%, Shell seems to have been abandoned by the market. A recovery could take some time, but Shell could be a good buy at its discounted price.
Getting a head start
Reuben Gregg Brewer (Total): French integrated energy giant Total has been buying clean energy and electric assets for years at this point. And while these non-oil businesses only account for around 5% of the energy the company sells, the goal is to ramp that up to 15% over the next decade or so. At the same time Total is going to increase its exposure to natural gas, a transition fuel, from 40% to 50%. Oil's position in the mix will drop from 55% to 35%, but along the way Total plans to refocus on low-cost assets so it can compete even if oil prices remain moribund. Total is well on its way to shifting its business in a cleaner, greener direction.
So that's good, but what about the U.S. election? Less than 15% of Total's oil and gas production came from the Americas in 2019. Basically, the U.S. election won't have too much of an impact on Total's business approach either way. And regardless of who wins, Total is positioning itself to be an energy industry leader. Yes, oil prices are painfully low right now, but that's more likely an investment opportunity than a major long-term threat to Total's business. And so long as oil averages around $40 a barrel (it's a little below that right now), the board has stated the dividend backing Total's 10%-plus dividend yield will hold.
A powerful dividend growth plan
Matt DiLallo (NextEra Energy Partners): There's a misplaced belief among investors that oil stocks will thrive under another Trump administration while renewables would prosper under a Biden one. Quite the opposite has occurred over the last four years as renewable energy stocks have outperformed fossil fuel companies under President Trump because the global economy is slowing the transition to cleaner energy sources. Because of that, these companies will likely continue winning no matter who emerges the victor on election night.
One clean-energy company poised to thrive over the next four years is NextEra Energy Partners. The natural gas pipeline and renewable energy producer currently expects to grow its dividend by a 12% to 15% annual rate through 2024. Thanks to the recent boost from acquisitions and expansion projects, it already has enough power sources to deliver on the plan next year.
Meanwhile, it has plenty of fuel sources to power its plan post-2021. One of the biggest is its strategic relationship with utility NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE). That company has an extensive portfolio of natural gas pipelines and renewable energy assets currently operating and under construction that it can drop down to its affiliate. In addition to that, NextEra Energy Partners can complete additional third-party acquisitions like last year's Meade Pipeline deal and sanction new organic expansion projects.
Add NextEra's current yield of 3.7% to its growth potential, and the clean-energy infrastructure company could generate total annual returns in the mid-teens. That upside potential, no matter the election outcome, makes it a great stock to buy before heading to the polls.