Or a contrarian idea for you. Now it cannot have escaped your attention that commodity prices have been under pressure for a while now with the oil price halving last year for example. This has also been the case for industrial commodities like copper, iron ore and also gold too. The net effect of this has been pretty disastrous for the oil & gas and metals and mining sectors.
Indeed we saw further falls in the mining sector yesterday, along with the rest of the market as it happens, but this took the sector down to lows last seen at the depths of the crisis in 2009. This has stirred some contrarian interest on my part, so I thought I would do some digging of my own and share with you what I have dug up.
Here is a ten year chart for BHP Billiton (BLT) which is something of a bell weather for the broader mining sector given its diversified nature, although they have focussed a bit more recently with the disposal of some non core assets via the demerger of South 32. As you can see it is not quite back to its lows of 2009, probably reflecting the slightly better quality of their operations versus the sector overall.
In terms of its rating it currently stands on nearly 20x for the year to June 2016 with a big decline (more than halving) of earnings already baked into the forecasts. Despite this the dividend is forecast to be up by 5% this year before being flat may be in 2016 despite cover collapsing to less than 1x next year. Thus there could be a risk of a dividend cut which the 7% or so yield is starting to factor in, although their dividend policy form the report and accounts is as follows. "We have a progressive dividend policy that seeks to steadily increase or at least to maintain the dividend in US dollars at each half-yearly payment." I note they did maintain their dividend during the last downturn in 2009, although they had much greater levels of cover as mining was still in the midst of its so called super cycle back then.
Talking of which I read an interesting article the other day which suggested that the mining sector or rather demand for industrial commodities is really reflecting the reality of underlying economies, demand and supply balances and deflationary pressures. Whereas financial markets are in their own super cycle these days being boosted by liquidity from central banks and resultant demand for financial assets. Thus ironically the miners might be better able to withstand a withdrawal of central bank liquidity and rising interest rates than other sectors as that might then indicate a more sustainable pattern of growth in the world which could be good for commodities.
Any way I digress lets get back to digging for value and yield. An alternative to BHP Billiton would be Rio Tinto (RIO) another diversified mining group. They actually look better value on around 16x this years earnings although their yield is lower at 5.6% to 5.8% as their cover is expected to remain above one and there may therefore be less risk of a dividend cut. Failing that if you are a gold bug and wanted to get really speculative you could always check out a Zimbabwean Gold miner - Caledonia Mining (CMCL) which has reported first half results today, although the recent fall in gold price makes that one less attractive now.
But as Status Quo sang - Is there a better way? Well regular readers will know I am a keen on investment trusts (as well as music) and there are a few ways you can play the sector via these. One I would highlight is the biggest most liquid play in the sector - BlackRock World Mining (BRWM) which has a market cap. of over £400m and stands at a discount of around 7% or so to its estimated Net Asset Value. So not only can you pick up a diversified portfolio of miners (if you want to) at a discount (including 10% or so in both BLT & RIO) but you also get a yield of 8.5% based on the current 21p dividend and a 245p share price.
Now that dividend is not cast in stone as the dividend from this one has been quite variable over the years (see page 7 of the report and accounts) and they did last cut it by nearly 14% back in 2009. in recent years they have introduced more of a focus on delivering a yield, although this did mean they messed up a bit by getting too heavily into some royalty schemes which didn't work out so well. Putting that to one side though the other attractive feature is the fact that they have revenue reserves (which can be used to pay and smooth dividends) equivalent to about 140% of the cost of the dividend. So if the manager and the board do their job then barring a complete collapse in mining dividend generally then they should at least be able to maintain or only slightly cut the dividend again.
Summary & Conclusion
So in summary the attraction here is that you can get a professionally managed and diversified portfolio of miners at a discount, plus a bit of gearing (12.5%) and with a yield that is greater than some of their main holdings and arguably better covered given the revenue reserves. Quite useful if you don't have the desire or inclination to get your head around metal prices and commodity cycles, but would like some longer term exposure as part of a diversified portfolio. If you did - then this seems like a good way to get it. The other reason to think about it now is on a contrarian basis as the sector has done so badly for the last six years or so and the yields available seem to indicate some value. However, as ever with investing no guarantees that it won't get worse and that the dividends and share prices could go down as well as up etc. but certainly one to put on the watch list. Personally as I was in need of some losses to offset against some of my gains I sold my BHP Billiton and stuck the proceeds into this for the reasons stated above.
Any way if that has whetted you appetite you can check out their site at the link in the name of the trust above where you'll also find a copy of their annual report and fact sheets etc. If not (did I mention I like music?) as a reward for getting this far, I'll leave you with some music, which hopefully you'll enjoy, as it is a fine album appropriately called After The Gold Rush by good old Neil Young.