A Deepwater Dividend Payer for the Long Run

Thursday, 30 Aug 2012 06:46 PM

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The key to income investing is to seek out solid, well-established companies that pay a strong dividend. Sounds simple enough, but where do you look?

Try looking right around you at the things you do every day, for starters. Do you eat? Drive a car? Use money? Right there you’ve got three good places to look: consumer goods, banks, and energy.

See, the trick is to locate high, heavy cash flows, industries and companies that cannot help but make money because they stand in the middle of broad demand that is unlikely to waver or quit over time. These might be not as exciting as a growth stock, such as a fast-growing retail concept or electronics firm, but they do one thing and the do it well. They make money.

Generally, high cash-flow stocks (not all, but most) try hard to give that money back to shareholders. The logic is that you the investor is going to be better at reinvesting profits than will the board of any given company.

One such sector is oil and energy. Sure, oil companies believe they compete. But what that means in practice is that they work hard to keep their costs low and to avoid losing their profit margin during demand declines.

If prices are high and margins fat, they can and do spend on exploration. But just as often they simply write a check to the shareholders and give the money back.

If you were interested in the oil sector, you would have your pick these days of high-income payers. Here’s one to consider:

Seadrill Limited (SDRL) pays 8.2 percent. An offshore drilling contractor for the global oil and gas business, Seadrill owns and operates jack-up rigs, tender rigs, semi-submersible rigs and drill ships for operations in shallow, mid- and deepwater areas.

The company operates a versatile fleet of 66 units for operations in shallow to ultra-deepwater areas in harsh environment and benign environments. Trading in New York and Oslo, the company has some 7,600 employees representing some 50 nationalities and operating in 15 countries on five continents.

The market for premium jack-up rigs continues to tighten, Seadrill CEO Alf Thorkildsen told analysts in a recent call. “The utilization rate for premium jack-up rigs has not been below 90 percent since May or March 2011 and has trended upwards in each successive quarter since then,” he said.

“With limited available supply and the tightening market in the near term, we expect additional pricing pressure and continued increase in day rates over the next year.”

Meanwhile, the company’s contract backlog sits at a record high of $20.3 billion, he said.

“Based on the fundamentals of the drilling market, combined with seamless strategy of the modern fleet and earnings visibility, we are even more confident of maintaining and enhancing our dividend policy in the years to come,” Thorkildsen told analysts.

High demand, strong cash flow, a solid commitment to dividend policy. All investing implies risk, but Seadrill management at least has its head pointed in the right direction for income investors.

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