Saudi Arabia and Russia are in a price war — increasing the supply of crude oil at a time when we are seeing an unprecedented collapse in demand due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Exxon has gotten crushed this year, down 45% YTD with a 9% dividend yield. They’ve consistently paid, and grown, the dividend over the past 37 years. Exxon’s dividend offers a juicy proposition for a company that is rated investment grade and at a time when the 10 yr treasury yield is <70bps.
But let’s do some quick math to see if the dividend is covered, first by looking at 2019 figures. As shown below, Exxon did $1.5BN in FCF.
This is not good. The Exxon dividend cost $14.6BN in 2019.
One thing we could do is look at what bare-bones capex is. In other words, what did the company spend in 2015/2016 when the oil outlook was also bleak? Cutting capex down to those levels would help preserve cash:
So now we have ~$10.5BN of FCF, but that still doesn’t cover the Exxon dividend. The other problem is that cutting capex is not what the company wants / intends to do. As stated in their March 5, 2020 investor day, they will actually be spending more than 2019:
On April 8, Exxon said it would cut this figure by 30%
Even so, cutting capex back doesn’t help. And the bigger problem is that oil was roughly 100%-200% higher in 2019 than it is right now.
What other ways could the Exxon dividend be maintained?
- They could sell assets, but what price would they get in a time like this?
- They could issue a bond to help cover it – but do you want an increase its debt load? Is jeopardizing the company for the dividend worth it?
I think its a matter of when, not if. Besides, I personally don’t think the oil industry is dead – there must be good long-term investment opportunities out there for them now that so many players are distressed.