Are BP plc And Royal Dutch Shell Plc Just Too Cheap To Ignore Now?

How much do you think you’d have lost if you’d bought BP (LSE: BP) shares in August 2012“, I asked someone recently — because that’s exactly what I did for the Fool’s Beginners’ Portfolio. The answer is perhaps surprising.

The share price itself is down 17% to 365p today, but once dividends are added we arrive at an overall loss of just 1.3%! Now, that’s still not a brilliant performance, but it’s a long way from the wipeout that we might have expected over a period in which the price of a barrel of Brent Crude has fallen from around $110 to just $33.65.

The Royal Dutch Shell (LSE: RDSB) share price has fallen further in the same timescale, losing 37%, and a lot of that difference must surely be due to BPs price originally being depressed by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. But Shell has been paying handsome dividends too, which bring the overall loss to around the 20% level — worse, but still not a disaster.

Safe stocks?!

You might not consider BP and Shell to be traditionally safe or defensive stocks, but when a company can see prices in its industry collapse yet still suffer only an overall loss of around 20% or less, then that’s pretty robust in my book! So should we be buying shares in BP and Shell in 2016? Too right we should, in my not so humble opinion.

BP is expected to provide shareholders with a dividend yield of 7.2% for the year ended December 2015, with around the same on the cards for 2016. Those payments won’t be covered by earnings, but BP boss Bob Dudley is famed for having predicted two or three years of cheap oil, and the firm has a much longer-term view and is very keen to keep its dividends going.

The position looks perhaps even better at Shell, which is on for 7.7% yields for the same two years, and it has the added advantage that the mooted 2016 payment would just be covered by earnings. And Shell is also going to be doing all it can to avoid having to cut its dividend in the short term.

What about valuations? BP’s shares, at 362p, are on a 2016 P/E of 15.5, which might not seem cheap — but that’s based on earnings geared to a very low oil price, and a recovery would drop that significantly in the medium term. At Shell, we have a 2016 P/E of 11.4 based on its 1,480p shares, and that’s looking even more attractive to me.

Who cares about the price of oil?

Now for the elephant — what’s going to happen to the price of oil? The investing world seems to be obsessed by it at the moment, with daily updates even from our major news sources, and everyone predicting exactly when it will turn upwards and how much a barrel will fetch by the end of the year.

Well, I just don’t care, and that’s because today’s oil price (or next week’s, or next month’s, or December 2016’s) has no bearing whatsoever on the long-term values of companies like BP and Shell.

Oil prices will recover, I don’t care when; and BP and Shell share prices will pick up, I don’t care when. And both companies will keep on handing out thick wads of cash in dividends for decades to come — and if you don’t want that, then you just might be mad.

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