Can Enterprise Products Partners Keep Its Distribution Streak Alive?

Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE: EPD  ) has been an income investor's dream stock for the past two decades. It's raised its distribution 39 consecutive quarters, and since its IPO in 1998 it's grown its distribution an impressive 7.5% annually. This has resulted in total returns of 20.9% over the last 18 years -- beating the market's 5.4% annual return by 284% annually.

EPD Total Return Price Chart
EPD Total Return Price data by YCharts

However with a market capitalization of $72.25 billion, investors might wonder whether the law of large numbers will soon render Enterprise Products Partners a has been with its best days behind it. This article will explain why Enterprise Products Partners remains one of the best income investments in America and why it will continue to outperform the market on the back of continued strong distribution growth. 

Enterprise Products Partners: the next decade
Analysts are actually forecasting Enterprise Products Partners' distribution growth rate will slightly accelerate, to 7.75% annually over the next decade. Given its current yield of 3.8%, this growth should provide for annual total returns of 11.5% through 2023. This is much slower than Enterprise's torrid growth rate of the last two decades, however it should still handily beat the market. 

Enterprise Products Partners will be able to keep its distribution streak alive due to booming production of three main growth drivers: NGLs exports, natural gas exports, and continued oil production.

Thanks to booming natural gas production, NGL production increased 18.2% in April and is up 10% in the last year. 
Enterprise Products Partners expects exports of ethane and other NGLs to increase 79% by 2020, which will result in 600,000 barrels/day (bpd) to 750,000 bpd. A major driver of this demand will be the petrochemical industry, which views cheap ethane as a valuable feedstock for high-margin chemicals. Because of this the petrochemical industry is investing $125 billion into building or expanding 148 facilities along the Gulf Coast. This will reaquire $56 billion in midstream infrastructure, and Enterprise Products Partners is up to the challenge. 
 
In fact, since 2011 Enterprise Products Partners currently has $6.8 billion in new projects scheduled to come online by 2016. 
 
Two of those projects, the Aegis and ATEX pipelines will serve the NGL export and petrochemical markets. The ATEX pipeline is a 125,000 bpd NGL pipeline that will connect the Marcellus shale, which is expected to increase its production 28-fold from 2007-2035, to the Gulf Coast export terminals and petrochemical facilities. The ATEX is expandable to 265,000 bpd and has 15-year contracts in place. 
 
The Aegis pipeline has a massive 425,000 bpd capacity, 200,000 bpd of which is already committed. It will connect Texas shale fields to six petrochemical customers along the Gulf Coast.
 
On the oil production front, Bloomberg just reported that the US achieved a record 11 million bpd of production in the first quarter off incredible production increases from shale oil formations such as the Bakken and Eagle Ford.
 
Enterprise Products Partners is poised to profit from this with the just-announced the completion of its Seaway pipeline expansion. This 512 mile, 850,000 bpd pipeline, and a 50/50 joint venture with Enbridge Energy Partners  (NYSE: EEP  ) connects Cushing, Oklahoma -- where West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil is priced -- to export facilities on the Texas Gulf Coast. 
 
A major competitive advantage for Enterprise Products Partners is that the Commerce Department recently gave it and Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE: PXD  ) permission to export minimally processed ultralight crude oil, called condensate. This permission, thus far, applies only to these two companies, which gives Enterprise Products Partners a monopoly on condensate export infrastructure. Analysts believe that condensate exports could reach 700,000 bpd by next year and as high as 1.7 million bpd by 2018. The reason for this growth is because 27% of Eagle Ford production is condensate, and exports of this form of oil would raise WTI prices and provide incentives to expand production even more. 
 
The final piece of the Enterprise Products Partners growth thesis is natural gas. The Energy Information Administration expects US gas production to increase 56% by 2040, from already record levels. 
 
This explosion in supply will be met with massive growth in LNG (liquefied natural gas), and through April the DOE has issued permits to six LNG terminals, representing 9.3 billion cubic feet/day (bcf/d) of export capacity. With a total of 20 proposed projects representing 30.55 bcf/d of capacity (41.3% of today's gas production), pipeline giants such as Enterprise Products Partners will be kept busy for decades building, operating, and profiting from this energy megatrend. 
 
With no general partner, no incentive distribution rights, and 36.4% insider ownership, management at Enterprise Products Partners has the means and the incentive to continue growing its distribution at its historical 7%-8%.
 
Foolish bottom line
The US energy boom is a multi-faceted historical opportunity for investors to generate long-term wealth and income. Enterprise Products Partners represents the bluest of blue chips in the midstream MLP space. Its superb history of consistent and strong distribution growth is likely to continue unabated for at least the next decade on the back of continued growth in production and exports of natural gas, NGLs, and oil. 

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