My Dividend Portfolio: Adding BP

| About: BP p.l.c. (BP)

I am a self directed dividend investor who manages my own portfolio. The portfolio is currently on track to deliver $27,000 in dividends income for 2013. The objective of the portfolio is to achieve $50,000 in dividend income within the next 5 years. BP (NYSE:BP) was a recent addition to my portfolio.

BP is one of the major integrated oil and gas producers in the world. With upstream and downstream assets, BP is involved in the full value chain of activities for oil and gas and is explorer, refiner, manufacturer, marketer and retailer of oil and gas.

A quick look at the numbers reveals some impressive statistics for BP. BP has a market capitalization of close to $147B, with revenues near $400B. Over the last 10 years, BP's revenues have increased from $230M to close to $400M today.

BP is offering a mouthwatering yield of close to 5% on today's prices. And the interesting thing is that it has been aggressively raising its dividend, the most recent dividend increase was more than 5% during the middle of 2013.

With a payout ratio of around 30% based on Trailing Twelve Months numbers, there is ample scope for the dividend to keep increasing over time.

The outlook for oil looks bullish

Oil is the one commodity that I am comfortable to take a position on, even though I don't generally like having much of a direct exposure to mining or mining companies for dividends.

New supplies of oil at low cost are increasingly difficult to come by. Pure play exploration is a tough business for those that don't have sufficient capital behind them given limited sites for exploration in more hostile areas of the world with uncertain yield potential.

In spite of the poor outlook for new reserves, BP's reserve replacement ratio has been reasonably good for the last few years, excluding a dip in 2012. In general this ratio has been above 100%, meaning BP is able to replace barrel for barrel what it produces.

With strength gaining in the US economy, and the global economic outlook improving, the price of oil will at least be stable at current levels, if not improve to the upside.

At $92 a barrel, things look fairly good for all the oil majors in terms of profitability. Throw in some political instability, which seems to be more the norm these days, and there will be leeway for the oil price to spike further.

Valuation metrics vs. others

On a valuation basis, BP is cheap compared to almost all of its competitors.

BP currently trades at a PE of 6x earnings. This is close to the cheapest that it has been trading at for most of the last 10 years, where it's generally averaged closer to 10x earnings. In fact, BP is cheaper on most measures including Price/Book and Price/Sales than it has been at any time over the last 5 years.

It's not that the oil majors as a whole are being severely discounted as a group either. Exxon (NYSE:XOM) trades at close to 12x earnings, Chevron (NYSE:CVX) trades at close to 10x earnings and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) (NYSE:RDS.B) trades at close to 10x earnings. Clearly there is a big discount built into the BP stock price currently.

Current settlement for Gulf of Mexico spill

Of course, there's a definite reason why BP stock is being priced at a marked discount to Exxon, Chevron and other competitors, and that's principally due to the uncertainty around the legal outcomes of the settlement of the oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico several years ago.

By my quick back of the envelope, I figure the market is pricing in an estimate of about $60-$70B in present value terms. I believe that will ultimately prove excessive once all the claims are heard, appealed and awarded. There are a number of parties who can be called to account including Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) and Transocean (NYSE:RIG).

The time liability is awarded and settled is likely to be years away. The way these claims are normally resolved, whether it's big tobacco or big oil in past years, have been via class settlement. All parties find themselves lawyers and the big corporate typically settles the action for some portion of the amount claimed.

My expectation is that the eventual outcome will be no different here. Of course legal awards can have an element of uncertainty, though I suspect some common sense will eventually prevail, particularly if there is no conclusion of gross negligence against BP.

Make no mistake, BP still has considerable legal and regulatory uncertainty hanging over it. The markets have taken their pound of flesh in terms of how it's priced, and the company trades at about two-thirds of the market cap of where it probably should be.

For those who are willing to take some legal and regulatory risk on the eventual likelihood that most of the legal liability will ultimately be settled, BP stock is not a bad place to be parked, and to claim a 5% rising dividend for your troubles.

In all scenarios, I expect that BP's ability to continue to pay and increase its dividend will remain unaffected. The company may divest non core, declining assets if liabilities come up more than expected, something that they have been doing for the last few years.

I expect BP stock will eventually move upwards once the legal overhang is removed, which should occur progressively over the next 1-2 years. At this point, I'd expect to see it rise close to 50% to somewhere close to the $225B mark in market cap.

BP may also be be considered as a takeover target by some of the other oil majors, which may be very interested as further clarity emerges over the Gulf of Mexico settlement.

I'll leave you with one final thought. In 1989, Exxon Valdez spilled billions of barrels of oil into Alaska. In 1994, an award of $5B in punitive damages was awarded against Exxon, equivalent to one years profit at the time.

After years of appeals and verdicts, the award was finally affirmed at $500M in 2008, which Exxon eventually paid by December 2009.

Disclosure: I am long BP. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.