A Closer Look at ONEOK Partners' Q1 Earnings

Tulsa-based ONEOK Partners (NYSE: OKS  ) reported earnings yesterday. Analysts were expecting earnings of $0.58 per unit and revenue of $2.38 billion. The partnership disappointed on one line and beat on the other, recording $0.42 per unit and revenue of $2.5 billion.

There is always more to an earnings report than analyst expectations, so let's take a closer look at three things that stood out in ONEOK's report.

1. NGLs
The big worry going into this quarter was a repeat of the suffering due to exposure to natural gas liquids prices that ONEOK experienced last quarter. That fear was realized, as CEO John Gibson tossed out phrases like "narrower natural gas liquids price differentials", "ethane rejection", and "lower realized commodity prices"; all terrible things to hear come earnings time.

As a reminder, ethane rejection refers to the decision to leave ethane in the natural gas stream, versus separating it and selling it on its own. The price of ethane has plummeted as production has grown, and in an effort to combat falling prices producers are rejecting it for now. Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE: EPD  ) has estimated ethane rejection has reached a volume of 175,000 barrels per day industrywide.

ONEOK Partners' Natural Gas Liquids segment operating income fell $67.4 million year over year, to $107.1 million.

2. Distributable cash flow
After reducing its outlook for distributable cash flow earlier this year, ONEOK may have worried investors. The partnership has reaffirmed it plans to stick to the new guidance, however, and $910 million-$1.0 billion remains the target range. ONEOK recorded first quarter DCF of $193.2 million, which was much lower than the $279 million it recorded in the first quarter of 2012 on its way to an annual total of $1.0 billion.

3. Good news
It's not all doom and gloom over at ONEOK Partners and parent company ONEOK (NYSE: OKE  ) , which holds a 43.4% stake in OKS. Volumes are up, and there are plenty of projects that have been recently completed, or on scheduled for completion this year, that will allow the partnership to reach its distributable cash goals. These new projects include an NGL pipeline and a processing plant in the Bakken Shale, which you can read about here. The beauty of these new projects, for example the partnership's Sterling III pipeline, is that it generates fee-based revenue and will not increase exposure to commodity risk. ONEOK is in the processing of increase fee-based contracts and reducing that risk across the board, but it will take time.

Foolish takeaway
ONEOK Partners took a beating, as its unit price dropped more than 7% after the announcement. Things will most likely level out as new projects come on line, and perhaps we will be looking at a much different story come this time next year. For that reason, now is a great time to make sure ONEOK Partners is on your Watchlist.

The growing production of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling is flooding the North American market and resulting in record-low prices for natural gas. Enterprise Products Partners, with its superior integrated asset base, can profit from the massive bottlenecks in takeaway capacity by taking on large-scale projects. To help investors decide whether Enterprise Products Partners is a buy or a sell today, click here now to check out The Motley Fool's brand-new premium research report on the company.


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