Pipeline Earnings Good; Investors Skeptical

We’re in the middle of earnings season, and last week several companies provided 1Q reports. The energy sector continues to struggle to excite investors. Although pipelines stocks delivered very strong performance through March, in recent weeks investors have started to question the rally’s resilience.

As a result, sentiment could use a boost from strong earnings. Of the companies we follow, results so far have been at or ahead of expectations. Enterprise Products Partners (EPD) generated almost $2 billion in EBITDA during 1Q19, handily beating forecasts. On the earnings call they discussed the conversion of their Seminole pipeline to carry crude oil instead of Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) from the Permian to Mount Belvieu: “…given its location and interconnects, we will always have flexibility to convert this pipeline back to NGL service depending on the pipeline supply demand balances for crude oil and NGLs in the future. I doubt that anyone else will be able to offer this type of future flexibility to Permian producers and to markets.” We get some questions about the likelihood of excess pipeline capacity in the Permian, and this optionality is useful.

There was another interesting exchange on propane exports, where EPD conceded to a drop in market share from 80% to around 50%. They’ve concluded that their pricing was too high, and plan to be more competitive. Energy Transfer (ET) CEO Kelcy Warren complained on their fourth quarter call about spending to protect his turf from competition from fringe private equity projects. EPD shares the same distaste for new, greenfield projects competing with more economic brownfield expansions on their existing footprint. EPD CEO Jim Teague commented that, “…we’re not going to make the mistake of having prices that (and) invite more competition.”

Takeaway infrastructure for Permian crude production often comes with associated natural gas. Inadequate takeaway infrastructure has led to flaring, and recently pushed prices at the Waha hub collection point negative. On April 3, some Exploration and Production (E&P) companies paid $9 per MCF to dispose of natural gas. Forward price remain negative through 2021.  The crude oil that they’re seeking is sufficiently profitable to cover this additional overhead. Under the circumstances, one might think E&P companies would be pushing for additional natural gas takeaway infrastructure. However, Williams Companies (WMB) CEO Alan Armstrong reported that few were willing to commit volumes on terms to support such an investment.

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Disclosure: 

We are invested in BRK, CEQP, EPD, ENLC, ET, OKE, WES and WMB.

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

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