Despite a reasonably consistent year for oil and gas prices, master limited partnerships (MLPs), which exist predominantly in the energy space, had a difficult year in 2012. Some have attributed the move out of the space to how MLPs would be treated in the new changes to the tax code. That has proved not to be an issue, so far. The MLP team at Credit Suisse Group A.G. (NYSE: CS), led by John Edwards and Scott Fogleman, think now is the time for investors to return to the sector to participate in what they see as a continuation of a “catch up” rally.
The MLP sector often trades on a yield-adjusted basis, although these yields are technically distributions as they include a return of capital. As MLP stocks rally, the stated yield for new investors entering the stocks is lower. After a strong rally off the market lows in 2009, peak pricing for most MLPs topped out in late 2011 and early 2012. Research indicates that MLPs have had a difficult time when aggregate yields are below the 6% level.
The current rally in the MLP space started to catch some steam near the end of 2012, as oil prices crept back over the $90 level and natural gas prices hovered in the mid $3 range. With strong fundamentals continuing to propel the energy space, the Credit Suisse team thinks there is still time to participate in current move up. With a projected average yield for MLPs in the 6% to 6.25% area, they are estimating total returns for stocks to be in the mid-teens (percentages). Total return is a combination of interest paid to the unit holder and increases in unit pricing.
So how do investors become involved in the space? One name that Credit Suisse upgraded to Outperform is Exterran Partners L.P. (NASDAQ: EXLP). Closing yesterday at $22.10, Exterran Partners provides natural gas contract operations services to customers in the United States. It is currently yielding 9.22%, paid quarterly.
Credit Suisse downgraded the following MLPs to Neutral for 2013: AmeriGas Partners L.P. (NYSE: APU), Boardwalk Pipeline Partners L.P. (NYSE: BWP), Spectra Energy Partners .L.P (NYSE: SEP) and Suburban Propane Partners L.P. (NYSE: SPH).
Many investors like to participate in funds that own a basket of MLP stocks for diversification. Kayne Anderson Partners MLP Investment Co. (NYSE: KYN), JPMorgan Alerian Index ETN (NYSEMKT: AMJ) and ALPS Alerian MLP (NYSEMKT: AMLP) all fill the bill.
MLP investing offers a unique and often more conservative way to be involved in the oil and gas industry. With a tax-preferred status the limited partnership provides amid a rising tax environment it may be time to get involved in the MLP “catch up” rally.