Let's be honest: France and the U.S. enjoy an interesting relationship. While the two countries have a long history of cordial diplomatic relations, the reality is Americans think the French don't like us, and many French think of Americans as boorish and uncultured. This gentle (if not petty) rivalry between the two countries has nothing to do with investing, but it may cause some investors in the U.S. to not think about France as a legitimate destination for profit opportunities.
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Obviously, France is a developed market and won't deliver the kind of exciting growth that investors have seen from markets like Brazil or India. That much is evident by the most recent French GDP report. That means it's important to put into context what an investor should expect when investing in French American depositary receipts (ADRs). (Learn more about ADR's in our ADR Basics Tutorial.)
Fortunately, it's easy to sum up French investing: Dividends and yield. While the list of French stocks trading on U.S. exchanges is small compared to say Brazilian and Chinese issues, the list does include a few names that offer sturdy payouts with enticing yields. Let's have a look at a few of them here.
All About An Acquisition
Sanofi Aventis (NYSE:SNY) may be a stock with which many U.S. investors aren't intimately familiar, but if you need some encouragement to take a look at the French pharmaceuticals giant, consider this: Famed value investor Warren Buffett is one of Sanofi's largest shareholders. That's probably because Sanofi offers a decent dividend and fair yield of about 3.1%. That's not jaw-dropping, but certainly better than what you'd get with CDs or Treasuries.
Like it's U.S. peers, Sanofi faces challenges when it comes to organic growth, almost forcing the company to pursue acquisitions of smaller, more nimble biotech companies. The object of Sanofi's desire is Genzyme (Nasdaq:GENZ), one of the top makers of treatments for genetic disorders. Sanofi has offered $69 a share for Genzyme, valuing the company at $18.5 billion, but the bid is now hostile because Genzyme requires a higher offer, perhaps $75 or $80 a share to willingly come to the negotiating table.
At the stock level, Sanofi would be a better buy if it is ultimately successful in acquiring Genzyme because the company's genetic treatments are extremely complex and difficult for generic competitors to copy and generic competition is always a thorn in the side of big pharma.
Dialing Up a French Dividend
Like its U.S. counterparts such as AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ), a big part of the allure with France Telecom (NYSE:FTE) is the dividend yield, which now hovers around 5.5%. And like most telecom plays, France Telecom is not growth story, but rather a value play. That said, France Telecom is an interesting way to gain exposure to the frontier market that is Africa, as the company is looking to double its revenue in rural African markets.
Africa is an important market for France Telecom, as highlighted by the company's recent $840 million purchase of a 40% stake in Meditel, Morocco's second-largest mobile phone company. And don't worry about the dividend. France Telecom said earlier this year that the payout is safe through at least 2012.
Oil The French Way
Total (NYSE:TOT), Europe's third-largest oil company, usually doesn't get the attention that its larger European and U.S. peers get, but this is one of the more solid names to be involved with in the integrated oil space. Plus, Total's current yield of 4.7% is superior to what is offered by comparable U.S. oil majors.
Beyond that, Total has been the busiest shopper in the oil patch this year, making 10 acquisitions and selling $4 billion in assets, but the company said in September that it is turning its attention away from acquisitions to growing exploration projects. That could mean good news for the dividend because Total is sitting on $19 billion in cash, the largest hoard of any major oil company.
The Bottom Line
With that kind of cash sitting around and probably no intention to make a major acquisition, Total looks like an ideal candidate for either a dividend hike or a share buyback plan. On the basis of the free cash and rising oil prices, Total is the preferred name of the stocks highlighted here.
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