ConocoPhillips (COP) explores for, develops, and produces crude oil, bitumen, natural gas, liquefied natural gas, and natural gas liquids worldwide. Over the past week, the company’s board of directors approved a 5.80% increase in the quarterly dividend to 73 cents/share. After this increase, this dividend achiever has managed to boost cash payouts to its patient long-term investors for a cool 14 years in a row. This was the second dividend increase after the spin-off of Phillips66. The first increase was by 4.50% to 69 cents/share in 2013.
When I last analyzed ConocoPhillips, I really liked what I saw. I have been adding to the stock for the past two years. I really like the fact that the company trying to deliver value to shareholders by focusing on projects with the best potential for return on capital, in order to deliver an annual growth in production between 3 – 5 % per year. As a result of the company’s ongoing portfolio optimization and effort to increase returns on capital, the company has been able to deliver results to shareholders. One of the company’s stated objectives of delivering a return to shareholders has been through regular dividend increases.
In fact, after the dividend increase was announced, the company’s CEO was quoted in the press release, stating that “A compelling dividend remains a top priority for our company and reflects our commitment to deliver competitive shareholder returns”.
One of the biggest misconceptions about ConocoPhillips is that the company didn't increase dividends in 2012. To the inexperienced investor, who doesn't dig deeper into the data, it looks like the company maintained the dividend at 66 cents/share between 2011 and 2013. The reality is that the dividend investor from early 2012 owned one share of COP that paid them 66 cents/share. This dividend investor received half a share of Phillips 66 (PSX) in the middle of 2012, after the company was spun off, that paid them 20 cents/share initially. In addition, they still held on to their original share of ConocoPhillips, which paid 66 cents/share. So as a result, the investor was left with a share of the new ConocoPhillips (COP), and the half share in Phillips 66 (PSX). The new ConocoPhillips company owned only the exploration and production portion of the old ConocoPhillips, but it still paid the same dividend amount as if it was the larger predecessor company. The first quarter after the spin-off, the shareholder received 66 cents from ConocoPhillips shares and 10 cents from their half share of Phillips 66. Subsequently, Phillips 66 dividend has been increased to 50 cents/share. Phillips 66 ended up with the Refining and Marketing assets from the original ConocoPhillips company from pre-2012. Those include Refineries in the US, as well as pipelines and terminals across the US. Contrary to popular opinion, the gas stations that you see in the US, that have the name ConocoPhillips or Phillips 66 are not owned by either company. Those have been sold out almost a decade ago, in an effort for the legacy ConocoPhillips to focus on its core competencies.
This is why you need to hold on to your spin-offs, and not sell them. Investors who fixate on having a certain number of companies in their portfolios might end up selling companies like Phillips 66, because they are arguing that they have too many companies in their portfolios to monitor. In my experience, selling a spin-off is usually a mistake. My experience includes Phillip Morris separating into Altria (MO), Phillip Morris International (PM) and Kraft, and the subsequent split of Kraft into Mondelez (MDLZ) and Kraft (KRFT). It also includes the split of Abbott into Abbott (ABT) and Abbvie (ABBV). I hold on to those positions, because the research I have read indicates that this has been the smart thing to do in the past. I initiated a position in ConocoPhillips after the spin-off however, which is why I don't own any Phillips 66.
I believe that this is a great company to buy and then hold on for many decades, while receiving higher dividends over time, that eventually surpass the cost basis of the stock.Unfortunately, I believe that shares have gone up quicker than I anticipated. Depending on other opportunities available for my capital, I would not be opposed to further building out my position in ConocoPhillips. It would be nice if I can add to my position at a starter yield of 4% or forward P/E of around 11.
What is your opinion on the company and the shares?
Full disclosure: Long COP, MO, PM, KRFT, MDLZ, ABBV, ABT
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