With West Texas Intermediate Futures down nearly 2%, laboring below $44 per barrel and the United States Oil Fund (NYSEArca: USO) ranking as one of 26 ETFs to touch all-time lows to this point in Thursday’s session, oil services ETFs are again getting drubbed.
The Market Vectors Oil Service ETF (NYSEArca: OIH), the largest oil services ETF, is off more than 2% while the SPDR Oil & Gas Equipment & Services ETF (NYSEArca: XES) is flirting with a 3%. A familiar theme beyond tumbling crude prices is haunting oil services stocks and ETFs Thursday: Concerns that some oil services companies will be forced to cut or suspend dividends in an effort to conserve cash should oil’s decline worsen.
Transocean (NYSE: RIG) and Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO) have been frequently mentioned as possible dividend cutters while analysts have pointed at Noble (NYSE: NE) as a candidate to reduce or suspend its share repurchase program. Those stocks combine for 7.5% of OIH’s weight. [Rough Days for Oil Services ETFs]
However, dividend cuts, particularly in the case of Transocean, may not come as easily as some analysts and investors are thinking. In a note posted by Barron’s earlier today, Credit Suisse notes dividend increases and reductions for Switzerland-based companies, such as Transocean, must be approved by shareholders and in the wake of SeaDrill (NYSE: SDRL) scrapping its dividend, oil services providers might think twice about material adjustments to their payouts.
In late November, shares of SeaDrill sank more than 20% after the company said it was suspending its dividend and that its new payout policy will remain in place until at least the end of 2015. With oil prices slumping, SeaDrill’s decision appears to be prudent as some analysts believe the move will save the company $2 billion in per year in cash flow. Still, that news sent OIH and rival oil services ETFs tumbling.
Even larger, more financially sturdy oil services companies could face the specter of dividend cuts or suspensions. The options market is pricing in a reduction to Schlumberger’s (NYSE: SLB) recently increased dividend.
Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services provider, recently announced a 25% dividend increase, bringing its payout to $2 per share per year. The options market is not impressed and sees the potential for that dividend to fall to $1.40 a share. That stock is OIH’s largest holding at a weight of 20.4%. [Big Energy ETFs Face Dividend Issues]
Market Vectors Oil Service ETF