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The world is perfectly aware of the sovereign debt crisis plaguing various EU members. Not knowing what the EU will look like in the future, many investors are staying away from the continent as a whole. While there could be good reason to stay away from Greek, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese sovereign bonds - particularly if these countries end up leaving the EU system - many investors are throwing out the corporate baby with the sovereign bathwater.

Investors are understandably scared of bonds issued by various EU governments. Governments may default potentially leaving bond investors with cents on the euro. However, many European corporations don't deserve the same treatment. While European corporations will suffer during a sovereign debt crisis, many have the flexibility to survive and recover as the crisis subsides. With many European stocks down significantly over the past 5 years, investors are starting to bottom-fish. Instead of fishing based on poor performance, some investors choose to fish based on dividend yield (which often rises due to weak stock price performance).

To assist, I ran a screen for the top 8 dividend yields for large cap European stocks traded on a US exchange. This is not a list for the faint of heart. Europe has not dealt with its mess and we could see more volatility. Still, even if not for immediate investment, investors would be wise to start exploring European stocks that could be potential buys when the bottom finally arrives. Of course, this is only a preliminary screen and is meant to help investors create a short-list for further research.

Here are the 8 names I came up with:

TickerCompanyIndustryCountry
(FTE)France TelecomTelecom Services - ForeignFrance
(NYSE:NOK)Nokia CorporationCommunication EquipmentFinland
(NYSE:BBVA)Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A.Foreign Regional BanksSpain
(NYSE:AZN)AstraZeneca PLCDrug Manufacturers - MajorUnited Kingdom
(NYSE:TOT)Total SAMajor Integrated Oil & GasFrance
(NYSE:NGG)National Grid plcGas UtilitiesUnited Kingdom
(NYSE:E)Eni SpAMajor Integrated Oil & GasItaly
(NASDAQ:VOD)Vodafone Group plcWireless CommunicationsUnited Kingdom

Note: my list originally included Telecom Italia, but due to insufficient data I excluded it.

And here is how these 8 stocks have performed over the past 5 years. As you can see, many of these names have taken a beating:

FTE Chart

FTE data by YCharts

TOT Chart

TOT data by YCharts

First of all, I won't assume that any of these stocks are good buys right now. For this reason, I want to make sure these stocks will pay me to wait if I dive in too early.

Below are the dividend yields and payout ratios for each stock. Out of these names, I would only consider the yields for BBVA, AZN, TOT, NGG and E as somewhat sustainable. All other names either have negative earnings or very high payout ratios.

TickerDividend YieldPayout Ratio
FTE13.25%98.81%
NOK9.12%neg
BBVA6.50%21.40%
AZN5.94%44.47%
TOT5.78%47.79%
NGG5.58%68.81%
E5.53%55.75%
VOD5.14%96.98%

I also took a look at the valuations for these stocks. Based on the table below, some of these companies are trading below book value and below cash. However, I would avoid the stocks with negative earnings (and therefore no P/E ratio) since these could be cheap for a very good reason.

In my opinion, with the exception of NOK, all the stocks below appear to have a decent valuation.

TickerP/EForward P/EP/SP/BP/Cash
FTE7.217.910.580.953.52
NOKnegneg0.240.890.83
BBVA14.368.962.320.830.09
AZN7.698.131.932.746.5
TOT8.317.140.541.266.28
NGG12.1413.681.812.789.2
E9.789.650.551.1513.6
VOD13.1811.142.021.1511.07

Looking at profitability, I again would stay away from NOK. The other listings appear to be reasonably profitable, whether looking at operating margins, ROA or ROE.

TickerOperating MarginReturn on AssetsReturn on Equity
FTE16.30%4.01%13.28%
NOK-9.42%-13.01%-32.59%
BBVA14.26%0.46%5.74%
AZN33.87%15.72%36.00%
TOT13.17%6.86%16.26%
NGG25.08%4.35%22.25%
E14.36%5.25%12.35%
VOD24.10%4.82%8.46%

Despite their fair profitability, note how FTE, BBVA and NGG all have comparatively high Long-Term Debt-to-Equity ratios. In a volatile economic environment, I would prefer to hold companies with very little debt. The 2008/2009 credit crisis demonstrated how a heavy debt load can be the death of a company that is dependent on frequent credit rollovers. Meanwhile, companies that held little debt rode out revenue fluctuations fairly well.

TickerLT Debt/Equity
FTE1.2
NOK0.44
BBVA2.2
AZN0.33
TOT0.32
NGG2.22
E0.43
VOD0.37

Data source: Finviz

Disclaimer: This is not advice. While the author makes every effort to provide high quality information, the information is not guaranteed to be accurate and should not be relied on. Investing involves risk and you could lose all your money. Consult a professional advisor before making any investing decisions.

Source: Bottom Fishing EU Style: Top 8 European Dividend Yields