The 2017 MLPA Conference

Last week was the annual MLPA conference, in Orlando, Florida. It’s safe to say the guests at nearby Walt Disney World had a more carefree time than beleaguered MLP investors. One long-time attendee described the mood as “glum”, noting that energy sector investors had expected a more vigorous rebound.

Although the conference is organized around presentations by management teams in the Hyatt Regency’s cavernous ballrooms, the private meetings that take place on the periphery are far more valuable. It’s also nice to catch up with some familiar faces.

We had a full schedule of meetings with management teams, usually with just one or two other investors in attendance. The most pressing question for MLP investors of late is, if Exploration and Production (E&P)companies (i.e. MLP customers) are continuing to increase production of oil and gas, why isn’t this good for MLP stock prices?

In fact the entire energy complex has had a terrible few months. MLPs are -2% YTD although the sector feels as if it’s been falling for months. Meanwhile, the Oil Services ETF (OIH) is -22%. U.S. crude output is 9.2 MMB/D (Million Barrels per Day) and is widely expected to reach 10 MMB/D next year by many observers, including OPEC. 1Q earnings for E&P names as well as for MLPs recently were generally good with positive guidance. The fundamentals remain encouraging . To paraphrase a typical question from a financial advisor invested in our mutual fund, “If you’re so smart, how come we’re losing money lately?”

When asked about recent stock price weakness, MLP executives were similarly puzzled. The good news is that they’re not spending much time worrying about it – following the 2015 Crash many steps were taken to reduce reliance on the fickle equity markets. Leverage is down and distribution coverage is up. Distributions have been held flat and in some cases cut in order to finance growth, while growth projects have been screened for higher returns. Generally, MLPs don’t have a pressing need for capital. While stock price weakness makes both management and investors poorer, it’s not being met by a desperate rush for capital to complete projects. And in some cases, such as Targa Resources (TRGP), equity capital even at lower prices was nonetheless attractive financing for their recently announced Natural Gas Liquids pipeline from the Permian Basin to North Texas.

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Disclosure: We are invested in ETE PAGP, TEGP (the GP of TEP) and TRGP

Disclosure: None.

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