The current Shiller P/E of the market is about 27. For those that are not familiar with this measurement, you can see an explanation here and the chart here. It's one of the most useful measures of the valuation of the S&P 500, and tells us whether the market as is undervalued, overvalued, or fairly valued compared to historical norms.
To put a Shiller P/E of 27 into perspective, it was about 32 in 1929 when Black Tuesday occurred. The highest ever was about 45 at the peak of the Dot Com bubble. Those are the only two times in history when the market had a noticeably higher Shiller P/E than right now. The mid-2000s, the time before the Great Recession, were about equal to the current value, around 27. All other times in history, it was lower than it is now. Usually significantly lower. We've had a six-year bull market at this point.
But long-term investors are not worried about market corrections. Most of us rather like them, since they are like sales for us, or like a pressure valve being released on lofty valuations. And we don't try to predict them, as that would be a distraction. What we're worried about is an overvalued market where it's challenging to find undervalued stocks, for however long that period lasts. And that's kind of where we are right now. A sea of mediocre and expensive stock valuations.
Diamonds in the Rough: 5 Attractive Stocks
Fortunately, even in an expensive market, there are usually reasonable values to be found. Just about any financially healthy company will be trading at a sizable valuation these days, so drastically undervalued stocks in the dividend space are all but nonexistent.
But modestly undervalued or fairly valued stocks? Those still do exist, and I'll describe five companies below that I believe match that description. Some of them offer substantial long-term returns at these price points, in my view. As always, do your own homework and make sure you are comfortable with your investment decisions.
Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (NYSE:BIP)
BIP is a publicly traded partnership that owns and operates a globally diversified portfolio of infrastructure assets shown in the operations map below and offers investors a 4.8% distribution yield with significant growth. The partnership organizes itself under three main segments: Utilities, Transport, and Energy.
The Utilities segment produces 44% of BIP's total cash flow and consists of 10,800 kilometers of electricity transmission lines in North and South America, 2.1 million natural gas and electricity distribution connections, and 85 mpta of coal handling capacity in Australia.
The Transport segment produces 48% of BIP's total cash flow and consists of 9,100 kilometers of rail track in Australia and South America, 3,200 kilometers of toll roads in South America, and 30 shipping ports in North America and Europe.
The Energy segment produces the remaining 8% of BIP's total cash flow and consists of 14,800 kilometers of natural gas distribution pipelines in the US, 40,000 natural gas customers in the UK, and 370 billion cubic feet of natural gas storage in North America.
BIP management expects to raise the distribution over the long term by 5%-9% per year. This figure comes from their expectation to raise prices at or above inflation by 3%-4% per year, have natural volume expansion in line with GDP growth of 1%-2% per year, and reinvest cash flows for another 2%-3% per year in the form of expansion projects and acquisitions. An example of organic growth opportunity is their plan to spend $650 million over three years to increase capacity of ports, rails, and toll roads. Over the last several years BIP has been expanding its various segments when it has been profitable to do so, and has been making new acquisitions when appropriate.
A 2013 report by McKinsey & Company estimated that the global investment in infrastructure needed between 2013 and 2030 will be $57 trillion. BIP has had no problems finding appealing ways to spend capital over the last several years and there should be an immense amount of opportunities for the foreseeable future for them to carve a small piece of that huge pie for themselves, even if there may be some bumps along the way.
I first began recommending BIP units five years ago when they were trading for $18 and the distribution yield was over 6%. Over time, BIP has sailed up to around $45/share and although they have continued to grow distributions, the yield is down to under 5% due to a heftier valuation from an overall more highly valued market. Along this time I've been less enthused about their valuation than I was in the cheap days, but overall I still find it's one of the more attractive investments on the market in terms of risk-adjusted return potential.
Although BIP has a wide moat due to the regulated and asset-heavy investments they own, they face risks from the state of the global economy. Most of their assets are not subject to competition, such as their electricity transmission business that serves 98% of the population of Chile, or their toll roads, or their rails and ports, etc. Instead their risk is mainly related to volume changes based on the economy.
Back in 2010 when BIP units were cheap, investors were worried about how much exposure they had to the troubled Chinese economy due to their large Australian coal export terminals that mainly went to China. And back then there were also worries about their European shipping ports. Like any business, BIP will face headwinds if the economy sinks in the form of reduced volume at some of their locations. But they'll also likely have opportunities to snatch up cheap assets from financially troubled companies, should that occur.
To help mitigate risk in investors' minds, BIP has stable debt levels and prudent management, and most of their cash flow is protected, meaning that 90% is regulated or contracted, 70% is indexed to inflation, and 60% has no volume risk. The partnership pays out just under two-thirds of its FFO as distributions, which gives a lot of room for flexibility in keeping the distribution payouts safe and growing.
Based on $1.97 in distributions paid over the last 12 months, this is the valuation table for Brookfield Infrastructure Partners using the Dividend Discount Model to figure out what prices we'd look to pay for different estimates of distribution growth and different target rates of return:
If they grow the distribution at an average of 7%/year for the foreseeable future, in line with the middle of management's growth estimate, then even with a fairly aggressive discount rate (aka target rate of return in our case) of 11%, the valuation is over $50 per unit. A similar valuation can come from using the lower end of their distribution growth estimate (6%) and "only" a 10% target rate of return discount rate. If the growth is as low as 5%, then a target rate of return of 9% still yields a valuation of over $50.
At the current unit price of around $44, BIP's distribution growth would have to seriously underperform management estimates for the current price to result in poor long-term returns for investors. So, while BIP may not be quite as undervalued as it once was, I do believe it continues to be a decent value in today's market even if BIP's performance is in the low end of their estimated range. And if their performance is towards the higher end, then even better.
Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX)
As everyone knows, gas prices have been relatively low lately across the world. This oil price crash has been large enough to wreck Russia's energy-focused economy. When oil prices fall, it still takes about the same amount of money to get it out of the ground as it did when oil was expensive, and yet they can't sell it for as much, so the profit margin is narrower. Companies like Chevron and Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) take a hit to both revenue and profit.
And that's when it's nice to buy them. XOM has fallen from its 52 week high of over $104 to its current price of around $88. CVX has fallen from its 52 week high of around $135 to its current price of around $112. Earnings for both oil giants have dropped as well, but their dividends will keep growing because they keep their payout ratio low for cycles like this. Chevron currently offers an attractive 3.8% dividend yield and XOM's is a bit lower at 3.1%. In comparison, the Vanguard "High Dividend Yield" ETF offers only about 2.8%. Both XOM and CVX are solid dividend payers, especially Chevron.
A March 2015 investor presentation by Chevron stated that they expect global energy demand to increase by 40% between 2015 and 2035, and that natural gas will have the biggest increase of 45% compared to liquids at 20%. The long-term case for the large energy companies remains strong, especially as they have expanded into gas.
For Chevron specifically, they plan to reduce spending for 2014-2017 as their large liquified natural gas projects are coming online and as they divest certain assets. Spending is still high currently, though. And in spite of this eventual reduced spending, their daily production in 2017 is expected to be 20% higher than it was in 2014 due to these online projects.
The major energy companies face a variety of risks, including the increasing difficulty of acquiring oil and gas reserves at appealing prices. But Chevron currently produces 2.6 million barrels of oil equivalent per day and has proved reserves of over 11 billion barrels of oil equivalent. The company also has a strong balance sheet.
Another long-term risk for companies that deal primarily with fossil fuels is the rise of renewable energy, particularly solar. Unlike most forms of grid energy that use mechanical energy to spin a turbine (and therefore inevitably lose some energy in each step), solar photovoltaic panels turn sunlight directly into electricity. Plus, because solar can be placed closer to the source of use, such as on top of a home that uses the energy it generates, there isn't as much energy lost in the transmission process over long distances. Solar prices seem to be dipping down to competitive levels for electricity production, and since solar easily fits for both residential and commercial projects, it's a prime candidate to provide the electricity if (and it's still a big if) electric cars start to take off years and decades down the line with all the associated infrastructure like charging or battery replacement stations everywhere.
Installation costs now constitute a larger and larger portion of total solar costs, although those installation costs are dropping as well as the industry matures.
International usage of abundant energy-dense coal for electricity generation may remain very strong as well, unless regulatory action severely limits it. In many emerging economies, regulation for that might remain light. This only is competition against oil and gas for grid power rather than in vehicles.
The abundance of coal and the increasing competitiveness of solar and other renewables potentially threatens the business model of the major energy companies, but it's a gradual threat. Even rather optimistic predictions rarely show solar and other renewables being a true threat to fossil fuels in the next couple decades. Major energy companies dealing in oil and gas seem to have a place for the foreseeable future, which can be extended if they adapt to whatever the market happens to be doing at any given time. An example was their switched focus from oil to gas, although other switches would be less clear-cut than this transition was.
Chevron is a dividend champion with 27 straight years of dividend increases. The current yield is over 3.8%.
Based on the valuation table below, Chevron looks fairly valued. Not overvalued but not undervalued either:
I currently consider Chevron a decent place to put some long-term money as part of a diversified portfolio. The current market price of about $111 is fair if we expect 6% dividend growth and have a target rate of return of 10%. There's not much of a margin of safety though, so compared to many other investments it's solid but I don't consider it the top of my list.
Emerson Electric (NYSE:EMR)
Emerson has increased its dividend for 58 consecutive years at an average long-term rate of 11% per year. This makes it one of the longest-running dividend champions around.
I don't expect full-on 11% dividend growth going forward, and I'm not going to use that figure for my valuation estimate, but I do think EMR looks like a solid investment right now.
The company is broken into five segments: Process Management, Industrial Automation, Network Power, Climate Technologies, and Appliances/Tools. But Emerson is more than the sum of its parts. Most of Emerson's customers are businesses, and the company often sells a total system solution where Emerson engineers will apply a range of technologies to solve a customer problem and get paid a premium for this mix of service and product. This is what separates them from more commodity-like competition with little product differentiation.
More than half of company sales come from outside of North America as Emerson has expanded its geographical footprint aggressively.
About a third of Emerson's sales come from the energy sector. That's another reason why I mention this company. It's being pulled down in the moderate-term by the same forces dragging on Chevron. The company has underperformed the market over the last five years, although this was only the latest hit to their growth.
Most of the free cash flow of the company goes back to investors in the form of dividends and share buybacks. The outstanding share count is falling, dividends per share keep going up, revenue has gone up modestly over the last five years, but earnings have remained flat, which has kept the stock price flat. The segments for Network Power and Industrial Automation have not been as successful as they ideally could be, and Emerson's Process Management segment is facing headwinds from the difficult energy sector, where a lot of the customers are.
Emerson is adjusting by managing their segments like a portfolio, divesting non-core businesses and making acquisitions to strengthen the areas they are already strong in. Companies go through periods of strength and weakness, and while Emerson's performance hasn't been great, that's exactly the reason why current valuation isn't as lofty as it might otherwise be, and gives long-term investors an opportunity to invest at reasonable prices if they think the company is well-positioned overall.
This is the valuation table:
The current price of about $59/share looks pretty good and offers a 3.2% dividend yield. Based on the current valuation we can expect a long-term rate of return of around 9 or 10 percent based on a long-term dividend growth rate of 6 or 7 percent.
A more conservative way to take a position in Emerson would be to sell a covered put option with the intention of buying if exercised. This would lower the cost basis of the purchase at the cost of limiting your short term upside potential. That's a good trade-off for a long-term investor in this high-valued market, in my opinion.
For example, selling a January 2016 put option for $5/share at a strike price of $60 would mean one of two things.
Scenario One is that the share price ends at under $60/share before mid-January 2016, and the option is excised, meaning you buy the shares for exactly $60 each regardless of what the share price is at that time, while also having been paid $5/share, resulting in entering a position in EMR at a cost basis of $55/share.
Scenario Two is that the share price ends over $60, so the option buyer does not exercise the option and it expires without value. This would mean you pocket $5/share and can then sell another option if you want. This would be a 8.3% return over 8.5 months.
Oneok Inc. (NYSE:OKE)
In my article, What To Look for in a MLP, I listed three types of partnerships that are particularly appealing to buy. The second item on the list is publicly traded general partners, which is what Oneok Inc is. This company Oneok Inc. (OKE) owns the general partner interest (GP) of Oneok Partners LP (OKS) and about a third of the limited partner units (LP), and both OKE and OKS are publicly traded. When given the choice, I usually prefer owning shares or units of the general partner for my portfolio in this sort of arrangement, rather than owning limited partner units, for reasons described in that article I linked to.
To quantify it in this case, here it is:
In 2010, Oneok Inc. received $191 million in distributions from the limited partner units they own of OKS. In the same year, 2010, Oneok Inc. received only $120 million from its holding of the general partner of OKS. Fast forward to 2015 estimated numbers, and Oneok Inc. should receive $292 million in distributions from its limited partner units and $402 million from its general partner holding. GP income grew much faster than LP income. The income they get from holding the general partner of a successfully growing partnership compounds like wildfire.
OKS offers a high distribution yield at around 7.5% and a modest distribution growth rate. OKE offers a lower dividend yield of about 5% but higher dividend growth. Analysts at Morningstar predict a 10% dividend growth rate going forward for at least the next few years for OKE.
Oneok Partners, and by extension Oneok Inc., is involved in midstream energy. They gather, process, and transport natural gas. According to a recent investor presentation, they have a $4 billion-$5 billion backlog of growth projects, with 60% of that in the form of natural gas liquids, 15% natural gas gathering and processing, and the remaining 25% in natural gas pipelines.
Because Oneok operates expensive infrastructure across multiple states in the central US between Texas and North Dakota, it is well-protected from competitors. They face risks from shifts in energy usage and can face headwinds from what the energy market is doing at any given time. Like any pipeline business, they need to use substantial leverage to fund their projects, which means they are sensitive to interest rate changes.
Here's a valuation table:
The current price of OKE is under $49/share. Compared to the estimated valuations derived from different dividend growth rates and target rates of return, the company appears to be attractively valued under just about any reasonably-performing scenario.
Kinder Morgan Inc. (NYSE:KMI)
Does 10% annual dividend growth and a 4.5% dividend yield sound pretty good? And in an otherwise expensive market? It does to me, if the company can perform as expected.
Kinder Morgan Inc. used to be another publicly traded general partnership like Oneok Inc., except much larger and more complex, until they recently consolidated. Analyzing it was a nightmare regardless of experience level due to the multi-level hierarchy they had and the sheer quantity of information to go through. Now, Kinder Morgan operates in a much simpler and cleaner structure. The P/E ratio is still not a useful metric to analyze this company by, however, due to its asset-heavy nature. Even though it's no longer in an MLP structure, it's still financially similar to one. Investors' focus should be on its ability to generate cash flow and pay growing dividends while maintaining a stable credit rating.
KMI's infrastructure spans across the entire United States, and they're the largest midstream energy company in the country and the third-largest overall energy company in the country. But unlike oil majors, Kinder Morgan focuses on being an energy toll road. Their revenue is fee-based for transporting energy and providing other midstream services. 85% of their cash flow is fee-based and about half of the remaining 15% is hedged, leaving the company with less sensitivity to energy prices. Slightly over half of their cash flow comes from natural gas pipelines, and the remaining half comes from a variety of terminals and other pipelines.
The company still faces risk, in part because their huge size dictates massive expansion profits or acquisitions each year to continue their growth. Environmental regulatory risk can reduce their ability to pursue certain projects. There's a trade-off between delivering consumers the energy they want and preserving the natural landscape and ecological purity of the land they transport it over.
Ten percent is the annual dividend growth rate that KMI management has stated that they expect to achieve between 2015 and 2020. That would mean a 60% increase in the annual dividend over a five-year period. This is expected to come from ongoing acquisitions and their $18 billion backlog of growth projects.
Richard Kinder, founder and CEO of Kinder Morgan since 1997 has $10 billion personally invested in the company and receives annual compensation of $1 to run the company. His wealth is self-made from his long-term outperformance in this sector over nearly two decades now and his real income comes from his dividends from the portion of KMI he owns. This is something long-term investors should love to see -- a CEO whose financial incentive is entirely derived from long-term company performance rather than derived from short-term performance. He has little incentive to pursue quarter-by-quarter profits and instead has the luxury and the incentive to sit back and take action for the long-term strategic profitable growth of his company. If there is a Warren Buffett of pipelines, Richard Kinder is him.
Here's a valuation table for KMI:
Using long-term estimated dividend growth of 7%/year (compared to 10%/year for at least the next five years as expected by management), the current price of $43/share appears poised to offer great returns if operations go well.
For KMI here, I'll provide a two-stage Dividend Discount model valuation table as well for another valuation check:
That table used a 9% dividend growth rate for the next 10 years followed by 5% forever after that, and is centered on a 10% discount rate/target rate of return.
The market is currently at a higher-than-usual average P/E ratio, but valuation estimates show that under reasonable scenarios, some stocks in the infrastructure sector appear modestly undervalued and some energy and engineering companies are in good shape for investors too.
There are always a variety of risks, including an unexpectedly bad recession at some point, or unfavorable interest rates (particularly for infrastructure companies that need a lot of leverage), but what most of these companies share in common is that they have competitive advantages. Particularly for the infrastructure examples (BIP, OKE, and KMI), their asset-heavy toll-road-like business models (and literally including toll roads in BIP's case), act as a sturdy foundation for dividends and distributions, and if managed well and not over-leveraged, can weather most types of economic troubles. The world has a lot of infrastructure development coming in future decades, and so pipelines, ports, roads, terminals, transmission lines, and other sorts of capital-heavy assets are a reasonable place to put money for good dividend/distribution yields, in my view.