Rich Kinder's Wild Ride

Earnings season is here, and with it the quarterly ritual of the earnings conference call. Quite a few MLPs have declared their distributions, and of the 32 that we’ve seen so far none have cut while half have announced increases. Those we care about include Western Gas Equity Partners (WGP), which announced a year-on-year increase of 19.2%. Its MLP Western Gas Partners grew at 10.7% year-on-year, illustrating the faster growth enjoyed by General Partners. Similarly, EQT GP Holdings and EQT Midstream, increased their 2Q16 distributions 63% and 22% respectively over 2Q15. Magellan Midstream (MMP) grew at 10.8% year-on-year, while Crestwood Equity Partners (CEQP) was flat after cutting its distribution in April (see Crestwood Delevers and Soars). CEQP still yields over 11%.

Kinder Morgan (KMI), no longer a Master Limited Partnership (MLP) but nonetheless a bellwether of the sector, reported a solid quarter and maintained its dividend (slashed by 75% in December) unchanged. KMI is big enough that their fortunes are somewhat reflective of the overall energy infrastructure industry. Chairman Rich Kinder can scarcely have had a wilder ride than the last three years. In January 2014, frustrated by the weakness in KMI’s stock price in the face of relentless criticism from a small research firm, Kinder famously said, “You sell. I’ll buy. And we see who comes out best in the long run.”

Kinder no doubt believes the long run is longer than the time since he spoke those words, because KMI is still substantially lower than it was back then. Kinder was still bullish at the top, and his antagonist remained bearish at the bottom. At least they both have conviction. Like other MLPs, Kinder Morgan identified growth opportunities beyond the appetite of traditional MLP equity investors to provide financing. In 2013 MLPs were raising more in equity capital than they were paying out in distributions (see The 2015 MLP Crash; Why and What’s Next). The Shale Revolution had created the need for more infrastructure, but it still strained their traditional financing model almost to breaking point. Kinder of course abandoned the MLP model altogether and became a conventional corporation (a “C-corp”), which made their stock available to any global investor and not just the limited pool of U.S. taxable, K-1 tolerant buyers. For the rest of the MLP sector, new mutual fund and ETF buyers provided an additional source of equity capital for a time, but falling prices caused some of them to exit. Every MLP investor by now knows how 2015 ended. KMI hoped to maintain the MLP distribution payout model of returning approximately 100% of Distributable Cash Flow (DCF) to investors. Finally, with the double-digit yield on their stock communicating a complete absence of gratitude for this largesse, they accepted the inevitable and slashed the dividend so as to delever their balance sheet (see Kinder Shows The MLP Model is Changing).

Which brings us to the most recent earnings call. Successful, big companies don’t shift strategy every quarter, even if sell-side analysts desire more “market-responsive” (i.e. fickle) planning. KMI had long argued that a Debt/EBITDA ratio of 5.5-6.0X was appropriate given their diversified business. The strategy shift triggered by the dividend cut in December was accompanied by a new, relentless focus on bringing this leverage ratio down to 5.0X. The cash saved by reducing the dividend was earmarked for paying down debt and financing growth projects, resulting in a less levered, self-financing KMI.

December 2015 to July 2016 is scarcely the long run by most standards. Nonetheless, analysts on the recent call were heard asking why KMI couldn’t finance some of its backlog of growth projects by issuing debt. Their $13BN backlog has a capex/EBITDA multiple of 6.5X, and is currently financed fully with internally generated cash (i.e. equity). This is down from 7.5X at their Analyst Day earlier this year, the result of “high-grading” their backlog (i.e. dropping the less attractive ones).  With a 15% unlevered after-tax return target on projects and a borrowing costs in the low single digits one can begin to see the appeal of debt financed growth.

Two quarters ago, sell-side analyst questions revolved around the speed at which KMI could reduce its leverage. Today, they’re being asked why they don’t increase leverage. One can hear the sighs of exasperation in the management team as they respond to the shifted goalposts such questions represent. It’s why running a private company can be more attractive – in fact, we often noted last year that if MLPs were unlisted and investors had to rely fully on financial statements in their evaluations, they would have concluded that not a great deal had changed. But this rapid shift in sentiment is what creates the opportunities for those that are able to keep their eye on the ball. Happily, Barron’s is shifting gears rather more slowly, with their first cautiously positive piece on MLPs in recent memory (see MLPs: Is It Safe to Dive Back Into the Pool Yet?). Skepticism is good.

We are invested in CEQP, KMI, MMP and WGP

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Important Disclosures

The information provided is for informational purposes only and investors should determine for themselves whether a particular service, security or product is suitable for their investment needs. The information contained herein is not complete, may not be current, is subject to change, and is subject to, and qualified in its entirety by, the more complete disclosures, risk factors and other terms that are contained in the disclosure, prospectus, and offering. Certain information herein has been obtained from third party sources and, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified and its accuracy or completeness cannot be guaranteed. No representation is made with respect to the accuracy,  completeness or timeliness of this information. Nothing provided on this site constitutes tax advice. Individuals should seek the advice of their own tax advisor for specific information regarding tax consequences of investments.  Investments in securities entail risk and are not suitable for all investors. This site is not a recommendation nor an offer to sell (or solicitation of an offer to buy) securities in the United States or in any other jurisdiction.

References to indexes and benchmarks are hypothetical illustrations of aggregate returns and do not reflect the performance of any actual investment. Investors cannot invest in an index and do not reflect the deduction of the advisor’s fees or other trading expenses. There can be no assurance that current investments will be profitable. Actual realized returns will depend on, among other factors, the value of assets and market conditions at the time of disposition, any related transaction costs, and the timing of the purchase. Indexes and benchmarks may not directly correlate or only partially relate to portfolios managed by SL Advisors as they have different underlying investments and may use different strategies or have different objectives than portfolios managed by SL Advisors (e.g. The Alerian index is a group MLP securities in the oil and gas industries. Portfolios may not include the same investments that are included in the Alerian Index. The S & P Index does not directly relate to investment strategies managed by SL Advisers.)

This site may contain forward-looking statements relating to the objectives, opportunities, and the future performance of the U.S. market generally. Forward-looking statements may be identified by the use of such words as; “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “should,” “planned,” “estimated,” “potential” and other similar terms. Examples of forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, estimates with respect to financial condition, results of operations, and success or lack of success of any particular investment strategy. All are subject to various factors, including, but not limited to general and local economic conditions, changing levels of competition within certain industries and markets, changes in interest rates, changes in legislation or regulation, and other economic, competitive, governmental, regulatory and technological factors affecting a portfolio’s operations that could cause actual results to differ materially from projected results. Such statements are forward-looking in nature and involves a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, and accordingly, actual results may differ materially from those reflected or contemplated in such forward-looking statements. Prospective investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements or examples. None of SL Advisors LLC or any of its affiliates or principals nor any other individual or entity assumes any obligation to update any forward-looking statements as a result of new information, subsequent events or any other circumstances. All statements made herein speak only as of the date that they were made. r

Certain hyperlinks or referenced websites on the Site, if any, are for your convenience and forward you to third parties’ websites, which generally are recognized by their top level domain name. Any descriptions of, references to, or links to other products, publications or services does not constitute an endorsement, authorization, sponsorship by or affiliation with SL Advisors LLC with respect to any linked site or its sponsor, unless expressly stated by SL Advisors LLC. Any such information, products or sites have not necessarily been reviewed by SL Advisors LLC and are provided or maintained by third parties over whom SL Advisors LLC exercise no control. SL Advisors LLC expressly disclaim any responsibility for the content, the accuracy of the information, and/or quality of products or services provided by or advertised on these third-party sites.

All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that any specific investment will be suitable or profitable for a client’s investment portfolio.

Past performance of the American Energy Independence Index is not indicative of future returns.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.