This year has been the worst for dividend investors since the height of the Great Recession. Hundreds of companies have slashed or suspended their payouts due to the coronavirus pandemic's impact on their operations and financial results.
While the dividend destruction is widespread, two sectors have taken a real beating: energy and REITs. Investors are bailing on those entire industries even though not all dividends are at risk. Two that stand out for their durability are the payouts of pipeline operator Enbridge (NYSE: ENB) and office REIT Boston Properties (NYSE: BXP). With their stock prices under pressure due to all the investor disdain for their respective sectors, their dividend yields are rising, making them appealing stocks for income seekers to buy.
Shares of Canadian energy infrastructure giant Enbridge have tumbled more than 20% this year, pushing its dividend yield up to about 8%. While a payout that high is usually a sign of trouble, that doesn't seem to be the case with Enbridge. Despite all the turmoil swirling across the energy sector, Enbridge's earnings are right on track with its full-year forecast thanks to the resilient nature of its business model, which largely insulates it from fluctuations in commodity prices and volumes.
Meanwhile, Enbridge typically pays out a reasonably conservative portion of its stable cash flow to support its dividend, with its payout ratio usually coming in around 65%. On top of that, it has a strong investment-grade balance sheet with leverage currently below its target level. Because of that, its dividend is on rock-solid ground.
Since Enbridge pays out a conservative portion of its cash flow via its dividend and has a strong balance sheet, it has the financial flexibility to continue expanding its operations. It currently has 11 billion Canadian dollars ($8.4 billion) of expansion projects under construction, including new oil and gas pipelines, expansions of its natural gas utilities, and new offshore wind farms. These commercially secured expansions should grow its cash flow by a 5% to 7% annual rate through 2022. Meanwhile, it has many other projects in development, including several more offshore wind farms in Europe. That pivot toward renewable energy is worth noting since it should enable the company to continue growing its cash flow and dividend in the coming years, making it a high-upside opportunity in the energy sector.
Standing tall amid the storm
Shares of office REITs have gotten hammered this year on concerns that COVID-19 will drive a permanent shift to working from home. That would impact demand for office space, causing occupancy and rental rates to fall. Those fears have weighed on shares of Boston Properties, which has lost about 35% of its value this year, pushing its dividend yield to 4.3%.
However, while investors are concerned about the future of the office, Boston Properties believes those concerns are overblown. Companies that initially saw some benefits to remote work are starting to desire a return to a normal working environment, which is better for learning, mentoring, collaboration, and creating office culture. Likewise, employees are tired of working from home, with the vast majority (88%, according to a recent survey by the Gensler Research Institute) desiring to go back to the office in some capacity.
Because of that, most office tenants have continued to pay their rent during the pandemic, with Boston Properties collecting 98% during the second quarter. Further, it continued to lease new space during that period despite all the uncertainty.
Meanwhile, the company complements its steady revenue stream with a top-notch balance sheet. It boasts one of the highest credit ratings in the office REIT sector and has a cash-rich balance sheet. At $1.9 billion, it has enough cash to redeem its debt maturities through 2022 and fund the entire $1.1 billion remaining on its office development pipeline, which is already 74% preleased. Given that strong financial footing, this REIT's dividend is on solid ground, making it an intriguing contrarian choice for income investors.
Investors have tossed out most energy and real estate stocks this year because COVID-19 walloped those sectors, causing many companies to slash their payouts. While that overall weakness has weighed on valuations across both sectors, not all dividends in those industries are at risk of a reduction. Investors can collect some attractive income streams by wading into these unloved areas with Boston Properties and Enbridge, which stand out for their compelling blend of yield and durability.
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