Shares of Plains All American Pipeline (NYSE: PAA ) hit a 52-week high today. Let's look at how it got here and whether clear skies/clouds are ahead.
How it got here
Yesterday's mark wasn't just a 52-week high, but an all-time high for the midstream energy company. Pipeline stocks have done well during the natural gas boom, as all that energy needs to be transported and stored. The future looks promising, too; consulting firm Bentek Energy has predicted production will grow by 78% over the next three years. The chart below gives a sense of the relationship between falling natural gas prices and their effect on pipelines like Plains.
PAA data by YCharts
Most of Plains' growth over the last year came as United States Natural Gas (NYSE: UNG ) fell to 10-year lows, and continued as commodity prices have remained low. Notably, Plains' natural gas subsidiary, PAA Natural Gas Storage (NYSE: PNG ) also hit a 52-week high recently. Plains' strong growth in recent years has been fueled by a number of acquisitions, including BP's Canadian liquefied natural gas assets, which have become more valuable as producers have moved away from dry gas. Revenue has nearly doubled in the last two years, and return on equity improved dramatically as well.
It's no surprise that Fools are bullish on the stock, giving five stars in CAPS and a 97% outperform rating; it looks to be a solid bet on increasing natural gas production and offers 4.7% dividend to boot. The pipeline still has a reasonable P/E at 16, and should be a good defensive play amid a struggling economy and a looming fiscal cliff.
Shareholders will want to keep an eye on future share dilution, as Plains has sold nearly $1 billion in new shares over the past year to fund new investments. Its debt burden, which has grown to nearly $6 billion, having increased by over $1 billion in the last 12 months, is also a potential red flag.
Still, Plains' multi-pronged strategy of pursuing complementary acquisitions, focusing on organic growth opportunities that take advantage of long-term trends, and targeting inefficient energy markets should continue to provide strong returns.
Plains All American looks like a good bet going forward, natural gas prices are low and supply is growing, but our experts at the Fool have found another company that stands to reap huge benefits from this gas boom. It pays a 5.7% dividend, but it's not the kind of company you'd expect it to be. Find out the name of this hot stock in our brand-new special free report: "The One Energy Stock You Must Own Before 2014." Just click right here to get your free copy now.