Skip to main content

A Canadian Natural Resources pump jack pumps oil out of the ground near Dorothy, Alta.© Todd Korol / Reuters/Reuters

One of the best places to find yields these days is the energy sector. The problem is that dividends can change very quickly. A few of these companies were able to maintain their payouts during the pandemic. Most could not.

Two years ago, many energy companies were slashing their dividends as oil prices plunged when the pandemic shut down the economy. In fact, for a short time oil was trading in negative territory.

It’s a different story now. Energy companies posted big first-quarter profits as oil and natural gas prices neared record highs. Tuesday’s oil price pullback, based on recession fears, will trim those gains somewhat. The decline in the price of energy stocks reflected that. But these companies are still in much better shape than they were two years ago, or even a year ago.

You could buy shares of Suncor Energy Inc. (SU-T) for about $15 in October, 2020. They closed on Tuesday at $43.34. The dividend, which was cut by more than half when the pandemic took hold, was recently increased to a record high of 47 cents a quarter, for a yield of 4.3 per cent.

It’s a somewhat different story with Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNQ-T). The stock was trading at below $20 in March, 2020. It’s now at $66.90. But unlike Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources didn’t cut its dividend. Rather, it continued to increase it. The stock now pays 75 cents a quarter ($3 a year), to yield 4.5 per cent.

Both these companies are industry giants. But there are several smaller companies on my newsletter recommended lists that offer even higher yields and are worth your attention. Here are three.

Keyera Corp. (KEY-T)

Current price: $29.21

Annual payout: $1.92

Yield: 6.6 per cent

Risk rating: Higher risk

Comments: Keyera is primarily in the natural gas and natural gas liquids business, providing such services as gathering, processing, fractionation, storage, transportation and marketing. It does not do any exploration or production.

Keyera’s first-quarter results weren’t sensational, but they were solid and the outlook is good. Net earnings were $113.8-million (51 cents a share), up from $85.8-million (39 cents) the year before. Funds from operations came in at $197.6-million compared with $181.1-million last year. Distributable cash flow was $178.5-million compared with $164.8-million.

The trailing 12-month dividend payout ratio was 62 per cent, which is well within the company’s target range of between 50 and 70 per cent. The monthly dividend of 16 cents a share, which has been unchanged since mid-2019, appears to be safe.

Gibson Energy Inc. (GEI-T)

Current price: $23.27

Annual payout: $1.48

Yield: 6.4 per cent

Risk rating: Higher risk

Comments: This is a Calgary-based oil infrastructure company. Its principal businesses consist of the storage, optimization, processing and gathering of crude oil and refined products.

We originally recommended this stock in my Income Investor newsletter last October at $23. I noted at the time this was one of only a handful of energy companies that had not cut its dividend when oil prices crumbled. The shares are ahead 3.6 per cent since and the dividend was recently increased.

The company reported strong first-quarter results. Revenue was $2.7-billion, up $1.1-billion or 67 per cent over the first quarter of 2021. Higher commodity prices and volumes were the main contributing factors. Adjusted EBITDA was $121-million, an increase of $18-million (17 per cent) over last year. (EBITDA stands for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.) Distributable cash flow was $79-million, an increase of $15-million over 2021, or 24 per cent.

The company reported net income of $52-million in the quarter, a 59-per-cent increase over the previous year. The dividend payout ratio on a trailing 12-month basis is 68 per cent, which is below the company’s target range between 70 and 80 per cent.

The strong results prompted the board of directors to approve a 5.7-per-cent dividend increase, effective with the April payment. The new rate is 37 cents a quarter ($1.48 annually), up from 35 cents previously.

The company also repurchased 776,100 shares for an aggregate cost of $19-million in the first quarter. Additional repurchases subsequent to the quarter will bring the total spent to $22-million year to date.

Freehold Royalties Ltd. (FRU-T)

Current price: $12.69

Annual payout: 96 cents

Yield: 7.6 per cent

Risk: Higher risk

Comments: Freehold is an oil and gas royalty company based in Calgary. It has assets in five provinces and eight U.S. states. Its primary focus is to acquire and actively manage royalties, while providing a lower-risk income vehicle for shareholders. Freehold has land holdings totaling more than 6.2 million gross acres in Canada and 0.8 million gross drilling unit acres in the United States.

The company’s first-quarter results showed a significant improvement from the same period in 2021. Revenue for the period was $87.6-million, up from $37-million the year before. Funds from operations were $71.9-million (48 cents a share), which was ahead 122 per cent from $32.4-million (25 cents) the year before. Production was 13,676 barrels of oil equivalent a day, a 25 per cent improvement from 10,944 boe/d the year before.

The company reported net income of $38.4-million (25 cents a share), compared with $5.6 million (4 cents) in 2021.

The company issued guidance for the full 2022 fiscal year. Average production is expected to be between 13,750 and 14,750 boe/d. Funds from operations are forecast at between $230-million and $250-million.

Freehold slashed its monthly dividend to 1.5 cents a share in April, 2020. It has since increased it six times to the current 8 cents a month. That’s a 7.6 per cent yield, a signal that the market is nervous about it in view of the company’s history of cuts when economic conditions sour.

All three of these companies offer very attractive cash flow. Based on recent history, Keyera and/or Gibson are the better bets in terms of maintaining their dividends if the pullback in oil and gas prices continues.

Gordon Pape is editor and publisher of the Internet Wealth Builder and Income Investor newsletters.

Be smart with your money. Get the latest investing insights delivered right to your inbox three times a week, with the Globe Investor newsletter. Sign up today.