Dividends Could Be the Next Victim of the Commodity Crunch

How to Make Money in the Energy Sector
  • Investors are suggesting that payments aren't sustainable
  • Share price of BHP Billiton implies yield of more than 10%

As commodity prices tumble to the lowest since the global financial crisis, the dividends paid by the world’s largest oil producers and miners look increasingly hard to justify.

Take the world’s largest 500 companies by sales. Of the 20 expected to pay the highest dividend yields over the next 12 months, 17 are natural resources companies, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

They include BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s largest miner, with a yield -- or dividend divided by share price -- of more than 10 percent on its London shares. Plains All American Pipeline LP tops the list with a yield of 13.7 percent. Ecopetrol, Colombia’s largest oil producer, has a payout of 11.6 percent. That compares with an average among all 500 companies of 3.5 percent.

“Investors are suggesting that dividend rates announced as recently as half-year results are generally not sustainable,” said Jeremy Sussman, a New York-based analyst at Clarksons Platou Securities Inc. “The current environment is among the toughest we have seen across the resource space, putting increased pressure on management teams to deliver cost savings.”

Miners Anglo American Plc and Freeport-McMoran Inc. have suspended payments to preserve cash, following Glencore Plc earlier in the year. Eni SpA, Italy’s largest oil producer, and Houston-based pipeline owner Kinder Morgan Inc. have both reduced dividends.

While other chief executive officers, especially at oil producers like Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Chevron Corp., have promised to keep paying, investors appear to be pricing in the likelihood of more cuts to come.

“The fall in oil companies’ share prices and the increase in the dividend yield to historical levels is signaling that the market is fearing a cut,” Ahmed Ben Salem, oil and gas analyst at Oddo & Cie in Paris, said by e-mail.

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