*** The following is a guest post (Our first official guest post to be exact) from our good friends at Sure Dividend ***
At Sure Dividend, we don’t use the term blue-chip loosely. While the term blue-chip gets thrown around a lot in the financial media, we have a specific definition of what constitutes a blue-chip stock. Blue-chips, in our view, are stocks that have at least 10+ consecutive years of annual dividend increases. There are three specific groups of stocks that fall into the category of blue-chip stocks: the Dividend Achievers (10+ consecutive years); the Dividend Aristocrats (25+ consecutive years); and the Dividend Kings (50+ consecutive years).
We believe blue-chip stocks are those that have maintained long histories of raising their dividends each year. A long track record of consistent annual dividend growth indicates a company with strong brands, durable competitive advantages, and a proven history of generating growth over the long run.
Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ) qualifies as a blue-chip dividend stock for Sure Dividend, as the company has now increased its dividend for 20 consecutive years. We also consider the stock to be undervalued, given the recent and significant decline in the share price. With a high current yield above 8%, Canadian Natural Resources is a blue-chip dividend stock.
Canadian Natural Resources is an energy company that operates in the acquisition, exploration, development, production, marketing, and sale of crude oil, natural gas liquids (NGLs), and natural gas. Geographic areas of production focus include Western Canada, the North Sea, and offshore Africa. The company is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, and the common stock is cross listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange, where it trades with a market capitalization of approximately US$17 billion.
The company has high-quality assets that will fuel its growth for many years. It has a massive asset base of long-life, low-decline assets which hold 27.8 years of proved reserves, and 36.0 years of reserve life based on proved-plus-probable reserves. Canadian Natural’s Oil Sands Mining and Upgrading assets have a reserve life of more than 43 years.
As a large exploration and production company, Canadian Natural Resources’ revenue and cash flow are dependent in part on the underlying commodity price. Reduced prices of oil and gas due to the negative demand shock posed by the coronavirus has put a dent in the oil and gas majors. Fortunately, Canadian Natural Resources has continued to perform well in recent periods.
In early March, Canadian Natural Resources reported financial results for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2019. In the year, average production grew 2%. In addition, the company reduced its operating costs by -10%, to $11.50 per barrel, and thus grew its adjusted earnings-per-share by 17%, from $2.06 to $2.40. Moreover, the company grew its adjusted funds flow by 13%, to an all-time high of $10.3 billion, and delivered record free cash flows of $4.6 billion.
Such a strong level of free cash flow permitted the company to return lots of cash to shareholders last year. Shareholder returns totaled $2.7 billion for 2019, including a 12% increase in the company’s quarterly dividend and over $940 million in share repurchases.
Canadian Natural Resources grew its reserves by 11% in 2019, to 10.99 billion barrels, and thus enhanced its reserve life index to 27.8 years. As this figure is more than twice as much as the average life of reserves of its peers (~11 years), it is impressive and certainly bodes well for the future growth prospects of the company.
In early 2020, Canadian Natural Resources declared a new quarterly dividend at a rate of $0.425 per share, for an annualized rate of $1.70 per share (US$1.21). This represented a 13% raise from the previous quarterly payout, meaning 2020 is the 20th consecutive year of a dividend increase for Canadian Natural Resources. This is an impressive history of increasing dividends, as it includes the global financial crisis and recession of 2008-2009, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.
Canadian Natural Resources is a high dividend stock, and is an attractive stock for income investors. Based on its recent share price, the stock has a high dividend yield of 8.6%. Compare this with the S&P 500 Index, which has an average dividend yield just above 2% right now. The combination of rising stock markets over much of the past decade, as well as falling interest rates, means it is more difficult to find suitable levels of investment income considering the lack of available alternatives.
The company has decent balance sheet strength as well, with an investment-grade credit rating of BBB from Standard & Poor’s. Canadian Natural Resources recently notified investors of recent developments surrounding the coronavirus crisis, and measures taken to protect the company’s financial position in an effort to secure the dividend. In 2019, Canadian Natural retired approximately $2.35 billion of bonds and term facilities, proving to be a wise decision as the global economy faces a potential recession in 2020.
Canadian Natural Resources has taken a number of steps to shore up its finances more recently, including suspending buybacks and cutting operating costs. Management is also confident regarding the liquidity position of the company. Current liquidity is approximately $5 billion consisting of cash, including approximately $1 billion in estimated cash reserves as at March 31st . Lastly, it is lowering its 2020 capital expenditure budget from $4.05 billion to $2.96 billion, a 27% reduction. In the company’s
view, its financial resources are more than sufficient to retire any current debt obligations when due.
The coronavirus crisis has weighed on the stock market over the past several weeks, particularly in the hardest-hit sectors such as energy. But this could simply be a good buying opportunity for long-term investors. There are many high-quality stocks that have seen their dividend yields rise dramatically as a result of their plunging share prices. And, valuations appear compressed across the energy sector.
Still, investors need to choose stocks selectively, to focus on high-quality businesses with sustainable dividends. Canadian Natural Resources has a strong business model and a long history of increasing its dividend each year. With a high dividend yield above 8%, Canadian Natural Resources is a blue-chip dividend stock.
** Just a reminder, this was a guest post from our friends at Sure Dividend. **
Always do your own stock research.