Pipeline Sector Extends Outperformance

SL Advisors Talks Markets
SL Advisors Talks Markets
Pipeline Sector Extends Outperformance


The continued rally in the energy sector is steadily lifting past performance ahead of the S&P500 over multiple timeframes. The American Energy Independence Index (AEITR) now has a higher annual return than the S&P500 over the past one, two and three years. Even over five years the performance gap is closing. The 12.3% pa return on the S&P500 is 3.1% ahead of the AEITR. On the Covid low (3/18/20), the AEITR five year trailing return was –19.2% pa, 23.9% worse than the S&P500. It was a dark moment indeed for pipeline investors, and especially so for those focused on MLPs where the carnage was even worse. 

The subsequent recovery has produced some striking relative performance. The one and two year trailing performance figures cause some potential investors to question whether such a move will assuredly be followed by a collapse.  

The fundamentals remain very good. 1Q22 earnings generally beat expectations, in some cases (ie Cheniere) by a huge margin. Financial discipline continues to constrain growth capex, aided by pipeline protesters whose efforts further dissuade spending on new projects. Hug a protester and offer to drive them somewhere. 

The Covid recession and recovery dominate recent performance history. But it’s worth remembering that the pipeline industry had already shifted away from spending for growth in favor of increasing free cash flow before that. By late 2019, pre-Covid, we felt the sector was poised to outperform because the growth years and MLP distribution cuts of the Shale Revolution had alienated so many investors.  

Two months ago, the pre-Covid return (ie from 12/31/2019) on the AEITR moved ahead of the S&P500. As of Thursday, the AEITR is 8.3% ahead of the market. Surging inflation and Europe’s sudden desire for energy security are two important tailwinds for energy stocks. But the sharp drop and quick recovery that Covid inflicted on the pipeline sector is looking increasingly aberrant. It will always be part of the sector’s history. Becoming comfortable that it won’t repeat is a hurdle facing many potential new investors.  

Closed End Funds (CEFs) have a longer history of providing MLP exposure to retail clients than even the deeply flawed Alerian MLP ETF (AMLP, see MLP Funds Made for Uncle Sam). For example, the Cushing MLP & Infrastructure Total Return Fund (SRV) sports an inglorious fifteen year history of relentless capital destruction. It now trades at less than one tenth of its IPO price. In 2015 we were moved to note its sorry eight year performance of delivering less than a quarter of the return of its benchmark (see An Apocalyptic Fund Story). Although consistent performance has rendered its diminutive size ($70 million AUM) no longer a significant source of revenue to manager Swank Energy Income Advisers, it still serves to warn CEF investors of the damage leverage and poor management can inflict.  

CEFs were generally not a big factor in the Covid bear market, but they did play an outsized role in the MLP collapse, which hurt the entire midstream sector. Operating a single sector fund with leverage reflects an opinion that the companies in that sector should be operating with more debt than they currently do. In effect, it’s a rejection of the collective wisdom of all the CFOs and rating agencies that have arrived at the prevailing capital structure in use.  

Since the stocks within a sector will tend to be highly correlated with one another, there’s little diversification benefit which might otherwise justify the increased risk profile. Single sector closed end funds use leverage to increase the dividend they can pay. But maintaining that leverage requires them to add to their holdings in a rising market – and to reduce them in a falling one. 

When MLP prices collapsed in March of 2020, MLP CEFs had no choice but to delever, which required selling. They exacerbated the fall in prices for the pipeline sector.  

The reason investors shouldn’t expect a repeat is because the consequent value destruction left all the MLP CEFs smaller. They’re no longer managing as much money, because of locked in losses, so wouldn’t have as much to sell even if we endured a repeat of March 2020. The managers of sector-specific CEFs with leverage combine poor judgment with hubris. They include Goldman Sachs, Tortoise, First Trust and Swank.  

Many MLP CEF holders who hung on in the belief that what falls so far must surely rebound will have been disappointed. The 17 MLP CEFs listed on Nuveen’s website are on average still down 37% from their level at the end of 2019, pre-Covid. The AEITR has fully recovered its losses with an 18.5% pa positive return. 

The two lessons are: (1) don’t invest in single sector CEFs because the leverage will eventually create permanent losses, and (2) because MLP CEFs provided evidence of #1 in 2020, they can’t repeat. So prospective investors in midstream energy infrastructure can regard the worst of the March 2020 brief collapse in pipeline stocks as unlikely to repeat.  

We have three funds that seek to profit from this environment:

Energy Mutual Fund

Energy ETF

Inflation Fund

Please see important Legal Disclosures.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
SL Advisors Talks Markets
SL Advisors Talks Markets
Pipeline Sector Extends Outperformance

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
1 reply
  1. Darren McCammon
    Darren McCammon says:

    Lesson #3: Leveraged single sector CEF’s make great buy indicators. When they implode, it’s time to overweight.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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