Everybody likes getting paid.
And since ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) is one of the most profitable companies in the world, it stands to reason that it pays a great dividend. Since the merger that created the megacompany in 1999, its annual dividend has more than tripled:
XOM Dividend data by YCharts.
However, that doesn't mean ExxonMobil is the best dividend payer in the oil patch. With that in mind, we asked three of our energy experts to name a company with better dividends than ExxonMobil, and they came back with three very different companies that do very different things, in ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), ONEOK (NYSE:OKE), and HollyFrontier (NYSE:HFC).
Here's what our experts had to say:
One of the best dividends from a Big Oil company can be found at ConocoPhillips. Its monster 4.4% dividend yield dwarfs
ExxonMobil's 3.1% yield, and ConocoPhillips places a much higher priority on its dividend while Exxon prefers to return cash via stock buybacks.
The following chart shows ConocoPhillips has made raising its dividend a priority in recent years.
COP Dividend data by YCharts.
Over the past few decades ConocoPhillips' dividend has risen by 666% (which I hope isn't a bad omen), while Exxon's is "only" up 513%. Much of ConocoPhillips' outperformance has also come in recent years as the company shed the integrated business model by jettisoning its refining assets. Its new model is focused on growing production and margins by mid-single-digits, which could fuel mid-single-digit dividend growth as long as the price of oil cooperates.
While that growth is likely halted now that the price of oil has been halved, the company is prioritizing maintaining the dividend through the down cycle. In fact, on the company's last conference call
, management said the "dividend remains our top priority." That's a statement few energy companies are willing to make given the number of energy dividends being reduced or eliminated these days.
Bottom line, if you are looking for a better yield now with more growth in the future, then ConocoPhillips is the stock to buy.
: ONEOK differs significantly from ExxonMobil. Not only is ExxonMobil orders of magnitude larger, but it is a diversified participant in every segment of the oil and gas value chain. ONEOK, on the other hand, is a pure play in the growth of increased distribution of natural gas and NGLs in the U.S.
ONEOK owns 41% of and is the general partner of ONEOK Partners (NYSE:OKS), a master limited partnership that owns one of the best-located natural gas and natural gas liquids collection, processing, storage, and distribution systems in the U.S. As a midstream operator, ONEOK (through ONEOK Partners) is primarily about moving the product to market, and letting other companies take on the potential risk (and reward) of finding and producing natural gas and natural gas liquids.
The company does generate about one-third of its income from commodities (mainly NGLs), but uses hedges to limit the downside for the majority of its sales here. When prices shoot up, these hedges can limit profits, but they serve an important role in minimizing losses when oil prices collapse.
For income seekers, ONEOK is built to pay for the long term. The company just increased its dividend by 3%, and will pay $2.42 per share on an annualized basis. That's good for nearly a 6% yield at recent prices, 90% higher than the yield on ExxonMobil stock:
OKE Dividend Yield (TTM) data by YCharts.
Best of all, the nature of its business should produce long-term and relatively predictable income from its contracts. That will likely lead to increasing payouts for years to come, and at what I think should be a higher rate of dividend growth than ExxonMobil is likely to produce.
: Since we're only talking about bigger dividends here, I think HollyFrontier is a no-brainer. It might not offer the diversity that has enabled ExxonMobil to thrive for as long as it has, but HollyFrontier has carved out a nice niche as one of the top independent refining companies in the U.S.
Here is one tricky thing you need to understand about HollyFrontier: If you go to any stock ticker page, it will likely say the dividend yield is in the 3.1% range lately -- just about the same as Exxonmobil. However, that doesn't include the "special" dividend HollyFrontier has paid every quarter for the past four years. When you include the $2 per share in annual special dividends, the annualized yield for shares of Hollyfrontier come to a much juicier 8%.
HollyFrontier has been able to crank out such fantastic dividend payments because the company has made its refineries some of the most complex in the nation, enabling them to handle less desirable crude it can source on the cheap. Also, management has proven itself to be very good at allocating capital and making moves at the right time, which has allowed the company to produce an industry-leading return on capital employed of greater than 12%.
Sure, margins and earnings might swing with the price of crude and the price of refined products, but Hollyfrontier has positioned itself into the best spot it can be in the refining market to produce big dividend payments for its shareholders.