Income-oriented investors love master limited partnerships because of their high cash payouts. Over the past few years, there has been a deluge of MLP initial public offerings, as companies try to make the most of cheap capital while quenching investors' thirst for yield.

Some of the best MLP investments, however, have been on the market for quite some time now, rewarding shareholders with clockwork-like distribution increases and market-thumping returns. Today I'll take a look at three energy MLPs that have not only posted remarkable consistency in their investor payouts, but have crushed the market at the same time.

The top three
The three MLPs listed below are tops among all energy MLPs in maintaining a quarterly streak of increasing their distribution payouts to investors:


Quarterly Streak

Current Yield

Five-Year Total Return

Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE:EPD)




Holly Energy Partners (NYSE:HEP)




Sunoco Logistics Partners (NYSE:SXL)




Source: Company statements, Yahoo! Finance, and YCharts 

Enterprise leads the way, increasing its distribution every quarter for the last nine years.

A couple of things stand out about the companies listed above. First, not a single one posts a yield above 5%. Many investors are drawn to the MLP space because of high yields; in fact, many MLPs currently sport yields much higher than 5%. However, all of our MLPs have also produced outsized returns over the past five years. There are few investors who will begrudge a 3.9% yield when shares have popped more than 400% in five years.

Of course, the last few years have been great for a lot of companies. With that in mind, let's look at the total return of these three MLPs compared to the total return of the overall market over the last five years:

EPD Total Return Price Chart

EPD Total Return Price data by YCharts

It's really no contest here. The performance of these three MLPs blows away the rest of the market.

The other observation to note about these three MLPs is that two of them have, or initially had, parent companies driving supply. HollyFrontier and Sunoco, which is now owned by Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE:ETP), provided reliable business for both Holly Energy Partners and Sunoco Logistics, forming a strong foundation for equally reliable distributions to unit holders. Energy Transfer Partners, for the record, has a 7% yield and a quarterly distribution increase streak of zero.

Market beaters
Listing distribution streaks is all well and good, but I'm going to give their performances some context to really drive home the point. Let's recall the jump off the high dive the market took a few years back:

EPD Dividend Chart

EPD Dividend data by YCharts

While the rest of the market cut back payouts, Enterprise, Holly Energy, and Sunoco Logistics continued to increase theirs, providing stability at one of the most volatile moments in economic history.

Yield of dreams
When it comes to the MLP space, investors are often rewarded not for chasing yield, but for seeking out stable, reliable, distribution payers like Enterprise Products Partners, Holly Energy Partners, and Sunoco Logistics Partners. This is something to keep in mind as the onslaught of MLP IPOs continues. Not all MLPs are created equally.

Fool contributor Aimee Duffy has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Enterprise Products Partners L.P. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.