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The Beginners’ Portfolio is a virtual portfolio, run as if based on real money with all costs, spreads and dividends accounted for. Transactions made for the portfolio are for educational purposes only and do not constitute advice to buy or sell.

It’s a couple of weeks since I last checked on the Beginners’ Portfolio, and prices have been going in both directions.

Paying dividends

There’s good news in that GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) shares have picked up since mid-January and now stand at 1,410p, although the share price is still down 6.4% since I first added them to the portfolio in June 2012. But to harp on about the importance I place in solid dividends, our investment in Glaxo is actually 12% up once the annual cash payments have been included, and that’s after accounting for all costs and spreads.

Now, 12% in a bit less than four years is a poor return, but it still beats cash left sitting in a bank account. We have a dividend yield of 6.2% forecast for 2016 after the firm confirmed its 2015 yield of 5.8%. And what’s more, we really should be on the cusp of a return to earnings growth — if we see a forecast uptick for 2017, I’d expect the share price to start moving upwards. GlaxoSmithKline is a firm hold.

Oily loser

The price fall for BP (LSE: BP) after its weak full-year results on 3 February was perhaps understandable, but we’ve actually seen a slight uptick since then, to 355p as I write. It’s all about the price of oil, clearly, and Brent Crude is up from a low of below $30 a barrel to a shade under $35 today. But what bemuses me is that BP’s long-term prospects actually have very little correlation to the short-term price of oil, especially as the current excess of supply just has to fade as so many producers are losing money at today’s prices.

Almost everyone expects oil to recover substantially by the end of 2016, and if and when that happens, BP shares will benefit accordingly. In the meantime, we have a forecast dividend yield of 7% on the cards — it won’t be covered, but BP should be able to pay it from cash comfortably. And it’s those dividends that, once again, have partly saved the Beginners’ investment.

I bought not long after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and my timing was poor — the pain of that turned out worse than I expected. And that was followed by the oil price crash. But what really surprises me is that, despite all the woes, our BP investment is only down 3.7% once dividends are included (and after deducting all costs). And that underlines to me just how safe our big oil companies are, not risky.

Falling banks

Barclays (LSE: BARC) shares have picked up a bit in recent days, but they’re still on a longer-term slide as confidence remains elusive and fear spreads its diabolical wings. With the price at 173p today, we’re actually down 32% on Barclays since adding to the portfolio two years ago in February 2014. Back then I thought Barclays was solid and had a great chance of recovery.

Since then? Well, I simply see Barclays as an even better buy now. Predicted dividend yields are relatively modest at around 2.9% for the year just ended, followed by a forecast 3.6% in 2016. But with earnings growth firmly on the way back, we’re looking at a forecast P/E of only 8.6 for the year ahead.

Never mind hold or buy, I see Barclays as a steal.

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Alan Oscroft has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Barclays and GlaxoSmithKline. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.