Shares of Cheniere Energy Partners (AMEX: CQP ) hit a 52-week high yesterday. Let's look at how it got here and whether clear skies are ahead.
How it got here
It's been a wild year for Cheniere Energy Partners and its associates, as an export terminal for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, moves forward. Sabine Pass, which is actually owned by Cheniere Energy Partners and not Cheniere Energy (AMEX: LNG ) , has made significant progress in recent months on both a regulatory and financing level.
Recently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Sabine Pass project leaving just financing left as a major milestone left to clear. Under a heavy debt load, Cheniere will not be able to finance the project itself, so finding outside funding is key. Blackstone Energy Partners recently announced a $2 billion equity investment in the project, and the company has lined up eight financial institutions to arrange $4 billion more in debt financing. Right now, everything looks like it's moving forward, and construction is expected to start in 2012.
A new industry emerging
The natural-gas drilling business has been hammered because of the low price of natural gas, but that has allowed a new industry to emerge as a result. Natural gas as a fuel has made major strides and those attempting to unlock its potential have become market darlings. Clean Energy Fuels (Nasdaq: CLNE ) and Westport Innovations (Nasdaq: WPRT ) are in the same boat as Cheniere, trying to unlock natural gas as a fuel, and have rewarded investors handsomely over the last three years.
Now the question becomes: Can Cheniere Energy Partners continue this run higher?
Cheniere Energy Partners still has a long way to go before anything is exported from Sabine Pass. Blackstone's deal allows it to convert its stock units into common units after two liquefaction trains begin commercial operation, something that isn't expected until 2016. The company has already lined up millions of tonnes per year in contracts, so the project should pay off, especially now that Blackstone has entered the equation, but what should we pay? Blackstone got shares for $18 per share and also gets a 4.2% PIK rate -- a sweetheart deal versus what you get for shares right now.
Normal metrics also mean very little to an investment like this, and that's what has me worried about over projecting the potential of Sabine Pass. The company already has a $4.5 billion market cap, $2.2 billion in debt, and stands four years from its prize of exporting natural gas. There's a lot of risk there, and even if I miss out on the next run-up -- which is very possible -- I just can't buy in right now.