A chance like this doesn’t come around often…
As the world’s most-followed investor, Warren Buffett’s portfolio is watched like a hawk. Investors everywhere intently follow his every move, ready to imitate his next play.
So under normal circumstances, if Buffett buys a stock, then “copy-cat” investors rush to join him… dramatically pushing up the stock price.
But I think you’ll agree these aren’t normal circumstances. There’s a debt crisis in Europe, Standard & Poor’s credit rating downgrades in the United States and abroad, and the threat of another recession has recently plagued financial markets. As nervous investors frantically withdraw their money from the market, stocks of all kinds have gone on sale.[ad#Google Adsense 336×280-IA]Even Buffett’s portfolio hasn’t weathered the storm untouched. In fact, one of his holdings, ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) fell more than 15% from the beginning of the selloff through September.
This pullback creates a unique opportunity. You see, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B) owns about 29 million shares of ConocoPhillips, and though he sold off some of his shares in the last quarter, it is still his largest oil-and-gas holding.
He started buying the stock in 2005, at about $70 a share. But thanks to the selloff, it’s now trading closer to $68.
This means you can pick up the Oracle of Omaha’s favorite energy stock for less than he paid for it.
But is it worth it? After all, Buffett started buying more than five years ago, and a lot has happened since then.
Simple answer… I believe it is.
ConocoPhillips doesn’t need much of an introduction. The integrated global “super major” is the world’s third-largest publicly-traded oil producer, digging up 1.7 million barrels of oil (and gas equivalent) per day in 14 countries.
On the back of higher oil prices since the selloff in 2008, ConocoPhillips has rebounded nicely. For all of fiscal 2010, the company pocketed $8.8 billion in earnings, up from $4.9 billion the prior year. And just this last quarter, ConocoPhillips raked in earnings of $3.4 billion, or $2.41 per share.
Now let me say, ConocoPhillips isn’t likely to wow the market with impressive growth — it’s tough to move the needle when you’re a $94 billion company. But the firm will give you dependable cash flow; having a huge reserve base of more than 8 billion barrels of oil takes some of the pressure off.
And it’s slimming down by cutting loose noncore assets. Last year, management committed to unwind its 20% equity stake in Russia’s Lukoil. That, along with other asset sales, has brought in $15.4 billion in proceeds in the past couple of years.
Meanwhile, the company plans to reinvest the proceeds into an $11 billion share buyback program — a move that has grabbed investors’ attention.
But that’s not all…
Sometime next year, ConocoPhillips plans to split into two companies. One company will consist of its exploration and production (E&P) unit, while the other will be dedicated to its refining and marketing businesses. Under the current plan, investors will receive one share in the new refining firm for every two shares they currently own in the company.
With each company acting independently, they’ll be better positioned to focus on their individual business strategies.
After the split, shareholders will still get the same $0.66 per share quarterly dividend. They will also receive a stake in the firm’s downstream business, which processes 2.4 million barrels of gasoline and diesel per day, and sells those products at 10,000 retail outlets in the United States and Europe.
On top of the shares in the new refining arm, investors that buy now might also see a nice dividend hike. ConocoPhillips has increased its dividend every year for the past 11 years. At an average annual dividend growth rate of 12%, I expect to see further increases as well.
And shares already offer a healthy dividend. With a current yield close to 4%, ConocoPhillips is the highest-yielding stock among major U.S. oil companies. By comparison, Chevron (NYSE: CVX) pays 3.2%, while Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) offers a mere 2.4%.
Risks to Consider: Like all stocks centered on natural resources, ConocoPhillips is subject to commodity risk. If the price of oil falls, then ConocoPhillips could fall with it. But though it’s possible, I don’t think it’s likely. Now that recessionary fears are easing somewhat, oil looks to have stabilized. After all, it’s one of the most valuable and in-demand resources on the planet.
Action to Take –> With ConocoPhillips trading cheaper than what Buffett paid for it, I think this could be one of the best opportunities we’ve seen yet.
— Nathan Slaughter[ad#jack p.s.]