Freeport-McMoRan is one of the largest copper and gold producers in the world but in 2013, in a controversial move, it expanded its commodities portfolio into energy and now has oil and natural gas assets in North America, including in the Deepwater of the Gulf of Mexico, onshore and offshore California and in the Haynesville shale.
Even while its shares slid, Freeport-McMoRan had been paying one of the juiciest dividends in the industry at 6.80%.
But on March 24, the company announced that it was cutting the dividend by 84% to $0.05 per share from $0.3125 per share payable on May 1, 2015 to shareholders of record as of April 15 in order to conserve its cash.
It was the first dividend cut since it suspended the dividend completely during the financial crisis in 2008. Once the crisis abated, it resumed the dividend.
In 2013, the company paid $9 billion in cash and stock to acquire Plains Exploration & Production and McMoRan Exploration. Energy is now approximately 25% of revenue.
But with crude prices crashing, so has revenue.
The company is also cutting capital expenditures in the oil and gas business to strengthen the balance sheet.
Earnings Estimates Slashed for 2015 and 2016
Not surprisingly, given weaker commodities prices, the analysts have been busy cutting full year estimates.
14 estimates have been cut for 2015 and 10 have slashed for 2016 in the last 60 days.
Over the last 3 months, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2015 has sunk to $0.99 from $2.23.
That’s an earnings decline of 49.4% compared to 2014 when the company earned $1.96.
This price and consensus chart is what you don’t want to see as an investor. Earnings are going the wrong way. They’re going down.
Shares Still Not Cheap
Freeport’s shares have plunged 41% in the last year.
But because earnings are also being lowered at a similarly quick pace, the shares aren’t cheap.
Freeport still trades with a forward P/E of 19. That’s still above the average of the S&P 500 which is trading at 17.5. And no one is talking about how cheap the S&P 500 is these days either.
The commodities companies are in a tight place right now.
If you insist on owning one, you might want to focus on the aluminum producers like Alcoa Inc. (AA – Analyst Report). It’s trading with a forward P/E of just 11.5, so it actually IS cheap, and is expected to grow earnings by 19.5% this year. It’s a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).
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