Coal miners pay highest US dividends as prices soar to records

An open pit coal mine. Credit: AdobeStock

Coal is paying off for investors.

Miners of the fossil fuel are raking in cash and paying out hefty dividends, with shares surging as the global energy crisis boosts coal prices to record highs. US coal producers are projected to offer an average return of about 6% to investors over the next year, more than any other industry. That’s led by Arch Resources Inc., which is about to distribute a substantial $10.75-a-share payout.

It’s a notable turnaround for an industry that experienced waves of bankruptcies in recent years as power producers shift away from the dirtiest fossil fuel. The resurgence comes as Russia’s war in Ukraine roils energy markets, and underscores that the market for coal remains robust even as environmentalists, progressive politicians and many corporations push to abandon the fuel to fight climate change.

Still, coal’s long-term prospects remain bleak, which is why miners enjoying record profits are returning cash to shareholders instead of spending on new projects.

“The name of the game in coal right now is capital returns,” Lucas Pipes, an analyst with B Riley Securities, said in an interview.

Arch’s payout follows a $6-a-share quarterly dividend announced in July and an $8.11 one declared in April. The dividend yield of the second-biggest US coal miner is expected to reach 25% over the next year, the highest on the Russell 2000 Index. Since the company has explicitly pledged to hand half of its cash flow back to shareholders, investors can expect healthy returns for the next several quarters or more, said Andrew Blumenfeld, director of data analytics at McCloskey by Opis.

Other US miners show similar promise, including Alliance Resource Partners LP’s projected 12-month dividend yield of 9.5% and the projected 4.2% yield of Ramaco Resources Inc. Alpha Metallurgical Resources Inc. just raised its regular dividend and announced a special payout of $5 a share.

Coal miners are in a unique position, Blumenfeld said. The market is healthy, for now, as utilities clamor to secure enough fuel to keep the lights on. But the world is inexorably shifting to cleaner sources of power and demand for coal is expected to gradually decline during the next few decades. There’s little reason to spend money on mines to boost output, but offering beefy payouts will make stocks appealing to investors and drive up share prices.

“They’re saying ‘we believe the best place for this cash is back with our investors’,” Blumenfeld said.

(By Will Wade)

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