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What Could Go Badly Wrong With Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Rio Tinto plc At These Prices?

“I conceive that the great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.” — Benjamin Franklin. 

If estimates from analysts are correct, there’s a great chance you could record pre-tax returns of about 100% or more by investing in Shell (LSE: RDSB) and Rio Tinto  (LSE: RIO).

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I have very different views on Rio, but Shell is indeed tempting. 


The average price target from brokers is 42% higher than Shell’s current stock price of 1,600, according to consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters — and that implies a price target above 2,200p for most analysts.

If the most bullish brokers are right, however, upside could be as much as 170% from Shell’s current level. 

I don’t actually know if you’ll ever record a performance north of 100% investing in Shell in this environment, but I know that under a base-case scenario where oil prices rise between 20% and 30% from their current levels, and based on the possible liquidation value of its assets, its shares should be worth at least 2,000p — and that partly excludes some of the additional benefits that its tie-up with BG may bring.

If I am right, its forward yield will get closer to 6% from its current level of 7.7%. 

It’s virtually meaningless to pay attention either to its 52-week range of 1,502.5p–2,431.5p or to its trading multiples because the “New Shell” that will emerge from the combination with BG — and I am convinced the deal will go through — will be a very different beast. It is useful to consider, though, that key to value creation will be flawless execution from its management team, and this remains the biggest risk for shareholders. 

Management risk also plays a big part when it comes to deciding whether or not to invest in Rio.


Most analysts seem to agree that Rio is undervalued by about 30%, and those in the bull camp argue for capital gains in the region of 80% or more. Frankly, I am not convinced that Rio is an appealing equity investment, although the $606m sale of a 40% stake in the Bengalla coal mine in eastern Australia this week was a step in the right direction. 

Its stock should trade at a 20% to 30% discount to its current level based on the fair value of its assets, in my opinion, and such a view is also supported by uncertainty surrounding its payout ratio — a less generous dividend policy is not priced into its stock right now, in my view. I’d be more comfortable with a forward yield closer to 5%, which implies a dividend cut of 20% this year, assuming a constant stock price at 2,200p.

Finally, while I do not think that a rights issue is strictly necessary over the next six months, the debate remains open on whether Rio will be able to withstand the prolonged pressure stemming from a very unpleasant market environment for commodity prices. Its current valuation of 2,230 is only 6% above the low end of its 52-week range (2,090.5p-3,280p), and a technical analyst could argue about a support trendline around this level. 

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

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