After a red-hot start to the year, oil prices have taken a breather recently. WTI, the primary U.S. oil price benchmark, has fallen more than 20% over the past month. That cooldown has caused most oil stocks to decline from their peak.
However, at more than $95 a barrel, WTI is still up nearly 30% for the year. That has most oil companies generating a gusher of cash flow these days. Most are returning the bulk of that windfall to shareholders due to the uncertain future for oil demand over the long term as the global economy decarbonizes. Because of that, investors can score some big-time oil-fueled income streams these days. Here are three top oil stocks to consider buying to cash in on the oil boom.
Adding more fuel to pay dividends
Devon Energy (DVN 0.45%) launched the oil industry's first fixed-plus-variable dividend framework last year. That strategy starts with a base dividend Devon can sustain at lower oil prices and a variable payment of up to 50% of its quarterly cash flows after deducting the base dividend. Both payouts have soared this year, thanks to higher oil prices.
The company most recently paid out $1.27 per share ($0.16 per share base plus a $1.11 per share variable dividend), which was 27% above the previous payment. At the company's current share price, which has fallen more than 30% from the peak, Devon offers a 9.6% annualized dividend yield at that payment rate.
While that payout will ebb and flow with the company's cash flow, Devon recently took a step to boost its cash flow in the future. It's paying $865 million for the assets of RimRock Oil and Gas. The company estimates that the deal will be immediately accretive to its cash flow per share. Because of that, Devon expects to be able to grow its base dividend by 13%. Meanwhile, the deal could also help fuel higher variable dividends depending on oil prices.
A jaw-dropping dividend
Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD 0.22%) took a page out of Devon Energy's playbook by launching a similar fixed-plus-variable dividend strategy. The big difference is that it pays out up to 75% of its free cash flow after deducting the base dividend via variable dividends.
The company most recently paid out a total of $7.38 per share in dividends ($0.78 per share base plus $6.60 per share variable), adding up to 80% of its free cash flow. At the recent share price, which has fallen 25% from the peak, Pioneer offers an eye-popping 14% annualized dividend yield at that payment amount.
Pioneer also returns additional cash to investors via its share repurchase program. It bought back $250 million of shares during the first quarter, bringing its total cash returns to 88% of its free cash flow. With its share price falling along with oil prices, the company's share repurchase program could retire a more meaningful portion of its outstanding shares in the coming quarters.
A fast-rising base payout with significant income upside
Diamondback Energy (FANG -0.09%) has a similar strategy but with a slightly different wrinkle. It aims to return 75% of its quarterly free cash flow to shareholders through a combination of base dividends, variable dividends, and share repurchases. That's an increase from its prior strategy of returning up to 50% of its quarterly free cash flow to shareholders.
The foundation of the company's capital return program is a fast-rising dividend. Diamondback has already increased its payout by three times this year (20% in February, 17% in May, and 7.1% in June). The most recent increase pushed the quarterly payout to $0.75 per share.
Meanwhile, the company can return the remaining free cash flow through either share repurchases, variable dividends, or a combination of the two. Last year, it opted to repurchase shares. It paid its first variable dividend of $2.35 per share in the first quarter while only repurchasing $7 million in stock. The company ramped up its share repurchases to over $250 million in the second quarter, leading it to pay a slightly lower variable dividend. However, the combined dividend payment remained at $3.05 per share. That implies an 11% annualized dividend yield on the current stock price following its nearly 30% decline in recent weeks.
Devon, Diamondback, and Pioneer all pay growing base dividends that they complement with variable payments based on their cash flows. With oil prices soaring this year, they are paying out massive dividends. While those payments will ebb and flow with oil prices, investors can collect a lucrative income stream as long as oil prices stay elevated.