Kinder Morgan: Great, But Stick To Pipelines

Kinder Morgan (KMI) kicked off pipeline company earnings last week. Their results contained no big surprises. Distributable Cash Flow (DCF) for the year came in at $4.73BN, up 5.5% versus 2017’s $4.48BN. Leverage finished the year at 4.5X (Net Debt/Adjusted EBITDA). KMI has argued previously that their diversified business could sustain a 5.0X ratio, something not always supported by the rating agencies. The sale of their TransMountain pipeline to the Canadian government (see Canada’s Failing Energy Strategy) created a cash windfall that they used to pay down debt. KMI now expects to remain at 4.5X for this year.

Like many investors, we think KMI’s continued investment in its CO2 business is a drag on value. Because Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) doesn’t generate the same recurring revenues as pipelines and terminals, we think the market assigns little value to the approximately 10% of DCF this segment represents. Moreover, the $1.6BN in capex planned for CO2 is 28% of the total backlog and three times what the company spent buying back stock in 2018. The commodity sensitivity of this segment is an unwanted distraction. If they can’t sell it, they should at least reduce the new cash deployed there.

Using a real estate analogy — if building and running pipelines is like constructing and owning rental property, then EOR is more akin to building houses and flipping them. For flippers, what matters is the net profit and not proceeds from each sale. Rental income (i.e. pipeline tariffs) are stable; profit from building and selling properties (i.e. oil production) is not. So DCF is the wrong valuation metric for the CO2 business, and basing a dividend on such unpredictable cash flows is inappropriate. Midstream investors are not fooled by this, which we believe explains KMI’s persistent low valuation.

The uncertain recurring nature of the CO2 business causes many to overlook it. This lowers the DCF yield by about 1/10th to 11.2%, which is nonetheless still very attractive. Considering KMI’s incredible position in natural gas pipelines, the market is applying a hefty discount. When asked, management typically responds that selling its CO2 business would be dilutive, because in a sale it would command a lower EV/EBITDA multiple than KMI as a whole. But we think the company’s valuation remains burdened by a business segment that doesn’t obviously belong there. We were happy to see reports late on Thursday that KMI was exploring its possible disposition.

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Disclosure: 

We are invested in KMI.

SL Advisors is the sub-advisor to the Catalyst MLP & Infrastructure Fund.To learn more about the Fund,please click  more

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