A significant dividend hike might not be in the cards for the world's second largest energy company Chevron (CVX) - Get Report this year, but the integrated oil major is not going to let another year pass without at least bumping its payoutto shareholders in a symbolic way, industry followers assert.
Following a significant dividend freeze and cryptic dialogue on the company's second quarter earnings call, the future of Chevron's dividend has been called into question in recent months.
The company is among the S&P 500's Dividend Aristocrat index, which measures the performance of S&P 500 companies that have increased dividends every year for the past 25 consecutive years.
And losing that status might be viewed poorly on Wall Street, making it seem a must for the integrated oil major, second only to ExxonMobil (XOM) - Get Report in market capitalization, to increase its dividend in the fourth quarter.
Prior to 2015, Chevron had hiked its dividend at least once a year since 2005, the first full year since its 2-for-1 stock split. And it's full-year dividend payments have been higher each year since 1990, according to its website.
The company did not increase its dividend in 2015, but it did pay shareholders $1.07 all four quarters during the year.
Since S&P looks at the dividends on a full-year basis, Chevron technically doled out more to investors in 2015 than the company did in 2014 when it distributed a $1 per share dividend in the first quarter and $1.07 per share dividen in the final three periods.
Typically, Chevron announces its dividend for the current quarter just ahead of its earning report for the previous frame. Chevron reports third quarter earnings Friday, Oct. 28, before the markets open.
While Chevron's management team was hesitant to speak much on the investor payout in the second quarter, noting only that it would continue to assess the feasibility of hiking the dividend in the coming weeks, some analysts have no doubt a bump is coming, albeit a slight one.
"I expect the dividend will be increased, but by a symbolic amount, maybe as little as a penny," Raymond James & Associates analyst Pavel Molchanov said in an interview with TheStreet. "The company wants to retain that Dividend Aristocrat title, and I expect them to continue doing so by making a dividend hike this quarter."
Molchanov explained that raising the dividend from $1.07 per share to say $1.08 or $1.09 apiece won't burn a hole in Chevron's pockets, but from a public relations perspective, maintaining the Dividend Aristocrat designation is important.
Thus, barring a major setback in third quarter earnings, Molchanov is confident investors will see an uptick in their payouts, even if it's just a penny.
To be sure, Chevron has gotten away with a meager hike in years past. In 2009, amid the financial crisis, the company bumped its dividend 3 cents from 65 cents to 68 cents per share.
And after crude oil prices had fallen well off from all-time highs hit in the fall of 1990, Chevron bumped its dividend just 2 cents per share from 39 cents to 41 cents between the first and second quarter of 1991. It held that 41 cents per share dividend for seven consecutive quarters until hiking it 3 cents to 44 cents per share in the first quarter of 1993.
Still, Chevron's current dividend freeze, currently standing at 10 consecutive quarters, is the longest in the past 25 years, calling into question whether a 2 cent bump will be enough to appease investors this far into a commodity downturn.