The world of master limited partnerships (MLPs) has brought great reward to investors in recent years. 24/7 Wall St. wants to know if the enthusiasm can stay in this sector this summer now that so many new secondary offerings have come in the recent weeks and months. The payouts are great, but there are many things to consider under a risk-reward analysis here, even after most MLPs really have come off of their highs.
At a time when Treasury yields have been nonexistent, MLP investors have been able to get high payouts that are viewed as quasi-dividends, due to some payouts representing income and some representing return of capital. The question to ask now is whether the risk-reward is there for new investors at the current prices. The unit prices of many key MLPs have been hit hard along with stocks in the past few weeks, and we wanted to take a risk-reward look for summer 2012. This sector could get a recovery, or it could face additional pressure like we saw in 2011.
If investors have been involved in the MLP sector since before, during or right after the great panic selling of 2008 and 2009, they are up huge if they held on. In many cases they have doubled their money or more. And as far as they are concerned they have been getting 5% to 8% in payouts each year (again, some income and some return of capital). The problem is that the prices here have become choppy and the MLP structures often have had secondary offerings on top of secondary offerings. Those secondary offerings have provided growth and acquisition capital, but some investors have started to worry that these secondary offerings may be the biggest contribution to the never-ending payout increases that have been seen in this sector.
MLPs in the energy space often attract the same sort of investors who would buy utility shares and preferred shares of banks, but they also overlap with REIT investors who look for above-market yields. This sector has enjoyed large price gains in the unit (share) prices, and investors are looking for any safe investments that have high payouts, compared to the world of no-returns in CDs and Treasuries. A wave of secondary offerings from many MLPs came before and during the recent market sell-off.
24/7 Wall St. has evaluated some of the top MLP investments to see how much implied upside remains in this sector. We have taken price performance as far as the sell-off from recent highs, as well as issues like the payout ratios (implied yield-equivalent) and the consensus price targets from Thomson Reuters. We have evaluated the following MLPs: Enterprise Products Partners LP (NYSE: EPD), Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (NYSE: KMP), Plains All American Pipeline LP (NYSE: PAA), ONEOK Partners LP (NYSE: OKS), Energy Transfer Partners LP (NYSE: ETP) and Enbridge Energy Partners LP (NYSE: EEP). These MLPs mentioned and covered here are some of the ones we track and keep on our watch list in the sector. These have market caps above $8 billion, they have a history of increased payouts each quarter, for the most part, and generally speaking these MLPs are all believed to have good management teams.
Investors have made a bundle here in this sector. MLPs are not really all that correlated to the price of oil because these are the partnerships (general and limited) for pipelines, terminals, and other facilities involved in the oil and gas sector in America. MLPs must derive 90% of their income from real estate, natural resources and commodities. The issuing of K-1 statements can make the structure more complicated, but the payouts often make that worth it for many investors seeking higher streams of cash flow.
We also have evaluated some of the key ETFs and closed-end funds in this sector. Be advise that just the three vehicles we have tracked in funds and ETFs have a combined market value of more than $11 billion.