Can Ferrellgas Partners Outpace AmeriGas and Suburban Propane?

Ferrellgas Partners (NYSE: FGP  ) will release its quarterly report on Friday, and shares of the propane distributor have jumped to two-year highs recently. Yet with a somewhat different exposure to the industry than rivals AmeriGas (NYSE: APU  ) and Suburban Propane (NYSE: SPH  ) , will Ferrellgas earnings be able to grow enough to make optimistic investors satisfied?

Ferrellgas has been in the propane business for a long time, but it has found a distinctive angle from which to market it. Much of the company's business involves its Blue Rhino tank-exchange system, whereby customers can obtain portable propane tanks for grills and other gas-powered appliances at local grocery stores and department store locations. That gives the company an extra boost over AmeriGas and Suburban Propane, but will it be enough to sustain growth for the long run? Let's take an early look at what's been happening with Ferrellgas Partners over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its report.

Stats on Ferrellgas Partners

Analyst EPS Estimate

($0.20)

Year-Ago EPS

($0.22)

Revenue Estimate

$390.41 million

Change From Year-Ago Revenue

7.6%

Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters

2

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

What's up with Ferrellgas earnings this quarter?
In recent months, analysts have had mixed views on Ferrellgas earnings, widening their loss estimates for the October quarter by $0.02 per share but boosting their full-year fiscal 2014 projections by $0.07 per share. The stock has produced modest gains of 2% since early September.

Ferrellgas came into the quarter on a fairly strong note, with impressive July-quarter results. Although the company lost money in what is traditionally a weak period for the propane industry, its losses narrowed by about 20% from the year-ago quarter. Ferrellgas also sported record adjusted EBITDA, distributable cash flow, and gross profits for the period. The company pointed to success in its Blue Rhino division as helping to offset some of the seasonality of its broader propane business, a factor that AmeriGas and Suburban Propane don't enjoy.

Ferrellgas has been making some smart strategic moves to try to improve its financial condition. In October, it began to refinance some of its outstanding debt, making a tender offer to buy back debt due in 2017 that carried a 9.125% interest rate, issuing in its place new debt with a much lower 6.75% rate due in 2022 via a private placement. Late last month, Ferrellgas continued its long-running string of acquisitions, buying Kansas-based KanGas in a transaction that it says should positive affect its earnings immediately.

AmeriGas, Suburban Propane, and Ferrellgas are all highly prized for their large distribution yields, with all three entities qualifying as master limited partnerships. Yet Ferrellgas has the highest yield of the three, topping 8%, and the MLP has been rock-solid in sustaining the same quarterly payout for more than 15 years. That might not compare well with the growth that Suburban Propane and AmeriGas have seen in their respective payouts, but it's hard to complain about Ferrellgas and its shareholder-minded distribution policy.

In the Ferrellgas earnings report, watch to see whether the company foresees stronger results for its winter quarter. As seasonal factors start to play a bigger role, investors will need to see Ferrellgas step up its game to fight off its rivals and make the most of the growth opportunity it has.

Looking beyond propane
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Click here to add Ferrellgas Partners to My Watchlist, which can find all of our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.


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