Is Oil Dividend Outlook at Risk Amid Coronavirus Pandemic?

It is a real tough phase for oil-energy players as crude price has dropped massively from $60 per barrel at the beginning of 2020. Many energy firms have slashed dividend payouts as it has become difficult for them to generate sufficient cashflow in the present oil slump.

Now, oil is slowly recovering, strengthening the financial position of big oil players. This, in turn, is brightening the companies’ dividend outlook. 

Oil Price Recovers Partially

Although oil price has declined substantially since 2020-beginning, the price of the commodity has been recovering over the past few months, thanks to easing social-distancing measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. Notably, since late-April, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude has improved more than 245.4%.

Recovering crude price is now providing incentive to explorers and producers to slowly ramp up upstream operations. This is getting reflected in the resumption of rig addition in U.S. resources over the past few weeks. With ramping up of upstream activities, oil explorers are likely to generate additional cashflows that will help maintain or hike dividend payments or repurchase shares.

ConocoPhillips Hikes Dividend

After putting its share repurchase program on hold in early 2020 when oil price was in a freefall, ConocoPhillips COP decided to repurchase $1 billion of its shares in the December quarter. Recovering oil price is likely to lend strong support to the Houston, TX-based leading exploration and production company’s share repurchase plan.

Moreover, ConocoPhillips hiked its quarterly dividends by 2.4% while many energy players are trying to stay afloat in the challenging business scenario. The company is being able to weather the pandemic and raise dividend since its balance sheet is very strong. With total cash and cash equivalents of $2.9 billion and $6 billion in undrawn credit facility, ConocoPhillips has sufficient liquidity. Also, in the next few years, the upstream energy major has no sizable debt maturities.

Big Oil Dividend Outlook

Many analysts believe the big oil dividend outlook is at risk considering the coronavirus-dented energy demand.  However, the logic is not true for all oil players as ConocoPhillips managed to hike dividend despite all odds. Improving crude price is also brightening big oil players’ dividend outlook to some extent.

It is to be noted that European energy major Royal Dutch Shell plc RDS.A has unexpectedly slashed its dividend by 66% in April 2020 to combat the pandemic. British energy giant BP plc BP also followed suit and cut its dividend in half in August. However, U.S. integrated energy majors have relatively been in a better place to sail through the challenging situation since their balance sheet is significantly stronger.

Headquartered in San Ramon, CA, Chevron Corporation’s CVX balance sheet is among the strongest. Notably, the company, which last time raised its dividend by 8% in January 2020, is very confident that even if the market witnesses a further drop in oil price in the future, the energy major can still easily depend on its strong balance sheet to maintain dividend payments.

Exxon Mobil Corporation XOM, headquartered in Irving, TX, can also rely on its balance sheet strength, with good debt ratings, to continue paying dividend. Investors should know that owing to its counter-cyclical capital spending program, the cashflow the integrated giant has been generating since 2019 is not enough to cover dividend payments. Thus, if the current rally in oil price sustains, ExxonMobil will not have to compromise its financial strength to sustain dividend payouts.

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