Tuesday’s news that Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FXC) is slashing its quarterly dividend to 5 cents per share from 31.25 cents is igniting scuttlebutt that other natural resources companies will follow suit.
Freeport is commonly viewed as a copper produce and, to a lesser extent, a gold miner. However, by way of its 2013 acquisition of McMoRan Exploration, the company is also an oil and gas producer. That means Freeport’s negative dividend news has investors speculating about the next energy company to cut payouts.
That speculation comes just weeks before Dow components Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX), the two largest U.S. oil companies, usually raise dividends.
Each of those companies have dividend increase streaks of at least 25 years (Exxon’s dividend increase streak is 32 years) , which qualify them for admission into the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats Index. That index is tracked by the fast-growing ProShares S&P 500 Aristocrats ETF (NYSEArca: NOBL).
The ability of Chevron and Exxon to continuing raising dividends as oil prices plummet is important because while Wall Street and Main Street have been somewhat tolerant of the companies’ plans to trim exploration and production spending and suspend buybacks, not extending dividend increase streaks would universally be seen as a negative. [ETFs for Upcoming Dividend Increases]
Exxon is the largest S&P 500 dividend payer in dollar terms, having paid out nearly $11.6 billion in dividends on a trailing 12-month basis , according to FactSet data. Only six companies, including Exxon, paid more in dividends over that period than the $7.9 billion paid by Chevron.
Exxon and Chevron boosted dividends by 9.5% and 7%, respectively, last year and while expectations are in place for more modest increases this year, the companies need to honor those expectations, no matter how token their dividend increases are.