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Why 2017 Was a Year to Remember for Cheniere Energy, Inc.

By Reuben Gregg Brewer - Dec 14, 2017 at 8:25AM

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The natural gas really started flowing in 2017, marking a memorable sea change for Cheniere Energy

If you look at Cheniere Energy, Inc.'s (NYSE: LNG) bottom line in 2017 you probably won't be too impressed. But that's not where the real action is for this liquified natural gas company. If you are willing to step back and look at the big picture, Cheniere's business turned an important corner in 2017, and that makes the future look a lot brighter from here.

The red ink keeps flowing

Cutting to the chase, most investors look at earnings. On that score, 2017 is set to be yet another year of losses for Cheniere, a company that hasn't turned a full-year profit in a decade. The company earned $0.23 a share in the first quarter before reporting sharply lower earnings in the second and third quarters. Through the first nine months of the year, the company's bottom line loss totals $2.24 a share. That's actually an improvement over the $3.16 a share it lost in the same period of 2016, but it hardly counts as a banner performance.

An LNG tanker

Image source: Getty Images

Where you see the really exciting news is on the top line, where revenues nearly doubled in the first quarter sequentially from the fourth quarter of 2016. That strength continued through the second and third quarters. All in, Cheniere pulled in roughly $3.9 billion of revenue in the first three quarters of 2017, compared to just over $1.3 billion in the same period of 2016. Revenues essentially tripled year over year, which is definitely a memorable event.

Bring it on

The difference between the two years was the ramp up of the Sabine Pass liquified natural gas facility. That process started in 2016, but really hit its stride in 2017 when a third LNG processing facility, called a train, came online in January. The company added a fourth train in October. These assets are all owned by the company's controlled partnership Cheniere Energy Partners LP (NYSE: CQP).

But Cheniere Energy Partners isn't done building yet, with a fifth LNG processing facility set to commence operations in late 2019. So there's more good news to come from Sabine Pass. And that's not the only project that Cheniere Energy, Inc. has in its repertoire. It's also building an LNG facility in Corpus Christi, Texas.

A timeline of construction plans for LNG facilities in Corpus Chrisit

Cheniere Energy's building plans at Corpus Christi. Image source: Cheniere Energy

The first two trains in Corpus Christi aren't expected to be operational until at least early 2019. Looking at the impact that Sabine Pass has had on the top line, it's easy to get excited about Corpus Christi -- however, the big takeaway from these plans is that Cheniere Energy is still spending money on construction projects. So don't expect the bottom line to suddenly rocket higher like the top line has.

However, improved results at Cheniere Energy Partners, an income play with a 6% yield, will likely continue. Note that the partnership announced its first distribution increase in October, a penny a unit, with plans for further hikes in 2018. That, in turn, means more good news for Cheniere since it controls Cheniere Energy Partners. But that positive is likely to be overshadowed by the construction plans taking shape at Corpus Christi over the near term.

A banner year, but it's not done yet

At the end of the day, 2017 was a hugely important year for Cheniere Energy. It basically proved that its business model of building LNG export facilities works, with the top line the evidence of its success at Sabine Pass. That said, Cheniere is still hard at work building LNG facilities, with those costs likely to keep the bottom line weak for at least another year or so. However, if you can see the glass half full here, Cheniere Energy's 2017 was a year to remember, and one that should set it up for much-improved performance when it gets further along at Corpus Christi.

Reuben Gregg Brewer has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Cheniere Energy, Inc. Stock Quote
Cheniere Energy, Inc.
$154.77 (2.65%) $4.00
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