In the current low-interest-rate environment, everybody's looking for a nice, sustainable yield. One place investors are turning their attention toward is master limited partnerships, or MLPs. These tax-advantaged entities are required to pay out the bulk of their income to shareholders -- known as unitholders in MLP parlance -- and tend to feature an average yield of around 6%.
There are different ways of investing in MLPs. Investors can choose exchange-traded funds, exchange-traded notes, or individual companies. Today, I'd like to focus on an individual MLP. It's a real heavyweight that offers a solid yield and plenty of room for growth.
An enterprising Enterprise
Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE: EPD ) is the largest publicly traded energy partnership in the U.S. and boasts an enterprise value of around $64 billion. The company's extensive system of pipelines and other assets serves producers and consumers of natural gas, natural gas liquids (NGLs), crude oil, as well as petrochemicals and refined products.
While the company is well diversified, both in terms of its business lines and sources of cash flow, its biggest cash cow is still its NGL business. Around 58% of its earnings stream is derived from its natural gas liquids pipelines and services business, which includes NGL processing and marketing, pipelines and storage, fractionation plans, and import/export terminals.
Enterprise has nearly 51,000 miles of pipelines transporting natural gas, crude oil, natural gas liquids, refined products, and petrochemicals. It also boasts 190 MMBbls of storage capacity for crude oil, natural gas, and refined products, as well as 14 Bcf of natural gas storage capacity. This massive operational scale affords it exceptional access to several emerging energy hot spots throughout the country.
Major growth projects
But don't let Enterprise's tremendous scale trick you into thinking that the company doesn't have room for growth. It most certainly does, with some $7.5 billion worth of growth projects currently under construction. Let's take a look at some of the major ones.
The company's Appalachia to Texas (ATEX) Express pipeline will help relieve the glut of ethane in places like the Marcellus and Utica plays by transporting it to plants in Mont Belvieu, Texas. The pipeline is more than 1,200 miles long with an initial expected capacity of up to 190 million barrels per day. Enterprise recently announced that it will be offering additional capacity on the ATEX express pipeline, for which it already has long-term commitments in place.
Another major project Enterprise recently undertook was the reversal of the Seaway pipeline. For some four decades now, the Seaway pipeline had channeled oil north, from the Texas Gulf Coast to Cushing, Okla., the nation's primary oil storage hub. But with the pipeline's flow reversed in May of this year, it's now transporting oil south, from Cushing to the Texas Gulf Coast.
The major benefit of this historic reversal accrues to Gulf Coast refiners in Texas and Louisiana that finally have access to the cheaper inland oil they've been so thirsty for. The project -- carried out in concert with joint-venture partner Enbridge after that company bought the 50% interest in the pipeline from ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP ) in the fall of last year -- was intended to reduce the glut of oil at Cushing. Yet judging by the current spread between WTI and Brent, which lingers near $20 per barrel, the pipeline's reversal hasn't had much of an impact.
But perhaps the most significant projects in terms of Enterprise's future growth potential are its expansion projects in Texas, like the Texas Express and Front Range NGL pipelines. The Texas Express is a joint venture between Enterprise, Enbridge, Anadarko (NYSE: APC ) , and DCP Midstream Partners. As part of the agreement, Enterprise is to construct and operate 580 miles of pipeline from Skellytown to Mont Belvieu, with an expected initial capacity of 250 million barrels per day expandable to 400 million barrels per day. The project, which will operate with 10-year ship-or-pay agreements, is expected to be in service by the second quarter of 2013.
Similarly, the Front Range NGL Pipeline is another joint venture between Enterprise, Anadarko, and DCP and will transport NGLs from eastern Colorado's DJ Basin to the mid-America pipeline and the Texas Express pipeline. With an initial expected capacity of 150 million barrels per day, expandable to 230 MBPD, it should be in service by the end of next year.
Midstream MLPs like Enterprise serve an important purpose. They provide the infrastructure necessary to transport commodities to where they're needed. With no signs that our domestic oil and gas production will slow down anytime soon, infrastructure demand is likely to remain strong for years to come, barring a sustained collapse in commodity prices.
Enterprise isn't alone in its increased efforts to bring new infrastructure projects online. Other midstream MLPs are ramping up growth significantly as well. For instance, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE: KMP ) raised its capex budget for the year to $2.2 billion, up from a previous estimate of $1.5 billion. The company also recently inked a major deal with Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX ) to build a pipeline that will transport crude oil from southwest Texas to Phillips 66's refinery located in Sweeny, Texas.
In all, I think there are many reasons to like Enterprise. Chief among them are its vast operating scale, diversified business lines, numerous well-positioned growth projects, and a high and rising percentage of fee-based revenues. Shares currently yield 5.1%, with last quarter marking the 32nd consecutive quarter the company has raised its distribution.
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