Investors have been piling back into oil majors like BP (LSE: BP) with gusto in recent weeks after OPEC’s Doha agreement bolstered hopes that the hulking market imbalance could be about to fade. Indeed, the stock was last dealing at levels not seen since the summer of 2014, around 520p per share.
BP has always been a firm favourite for dividend hunters thanks to its commitment to offering market-blasting yields, regardless of subdued crude values. The company has managed to keep this run going thanks to budget cuts, cost reductions and a steady flow of asset divestments.
And current forecasts suggest that BP will keep yields ahead of those of the broader FTSE 100.
Although the City expects BP to keep 2015’s dividend of 40 US cents per share locked for 2016, expectations of sustained earnings growth through to the close of next year produce improved forecasts of 41 cents in 2017 and 42 cents in 2018.
So while expected dividend growth can hardly be designated as electric, these forecasts still leave BP with monster yields of 6.1% and 6.2% for this year and next.
However, investors must bear in mind that payout projections for this period remain woefully covered. Earnings for 2017 are actually anticipated to outstrip the dividend, while coverage of 1.2 times for next year falls well below the security watermark of two times.
While the oil sector is currently riding the crest of a wave, a steady acceleration in oil prices is hardly a foregone conclusion as suppliers in the US steadily get back to work, keeping the market flooded with excess material. And global demand is still not strong enough to suck up these gargantuan stockpiles.
Against this backcloth it’s too early to expect a sustained earnings recovery at BP, in my opinion, and with the producer also battling against a hefty debt pile, I believe current dividend projections may be an ask too far.
Market appetite for HSBC Holdings (LSE: HSBA) has also taken off in recent months as Brexit pains have driven demand for firms with strong international exposure. As a consequence, The World’s Local Bank strode to three-year peaks just this week.
But HSBC isn’t immune to the threat of pressured revenues growth as economic cooling and loose monetary policy in Asia persist. Indeed, the company saw adjusted pre-tax profit tumbling 6% during January-September of last year, to $16.7bn. And this environment casts a cloud over HSBC meeting the City’s vast dividend projections.
The bank is anticipated to cut the dividend to 50 US cents per share in 2016, according to broker consensus, down from 51 cents in the prior year. And this is expected to fall to 48 cents in both 2017 and 2018.
Still, many investors will be tempted in by an eye-watering yield of 5.9% through to the close of next year.
But with dividend cover standing at a mere 1.3 times for this period, and market difficulties expected to remain for some time yet, I believe HSBC may be forced to slash the dividend even further than forecast.
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Royston Wild has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended BP and HSBC Holdings. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.