Last week, analysts at Credit Suisse unveiled their view on a whole host of energy stocks. While they were bullish a large portion of the sector, they saw the most upside in the following three high-yield stocks:

High-Yield Stock

Current Yield

Current Price

Price Target

Implied upside

Energy Transfer Equity (NYSE:ET)





Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI)





Western Gas Equity Partners (NYSE: WGP)





Data source: Ycharts and Bloomberg. Current price as of Jan. 5, 2018. 

Here's a look at why this trio could outperform in 2018.

A man in a suit with a fan of $100 bills in his hand.

Image source: Getty Images.

Several catalysts on the horizon

Energy Transfer Equity is coming off a tough 2017, when it lost 10.6% of its value. That's not all that surprising, since distributable cash flow through the third quarter was $726 million, which was down 20% versus the year-ago period. The company therefore distributed more cash to investors than it brought in, with its coverage ratio falling to a concerning 0.96 through the third quarter. 

However, this decline is a bit deceiving, since the driver was an increase in the amount of incentive distribution rights (IDRs) from its master limited partnership (MLP), Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE: ETP), that it agreed to relinquish. Energy Transfer Equity did so to help support its namesake MLP as it works through a massive expansion phase. If we back out that support, then cash flow would have increased 3.3%. 

Either way, 2018 should be a bounce-back year for the company. First of all, the IDR support will wane, with Energy Transfer Equity only relinquishing $153 million in IDRs this year after forfeiting $655.5 million last year. On top of that, Energy Transfer Partners' expansion efforts are starting to pay dividends, which means even more cash will flow to Energy Transfer Equity via the IDRs. Finally, the company's other MLP, Sunoco LP (NYSE:SU), is in the process of selling the bulk of its gas stations. Once that deal closes, it will improve Sunoco LP's financial situation, enabling it to redeem the $300 million preferred stock investment Energy Transfer Equity made last year to help keep it afloat. That looming redemption could provide Energy Transfer Equity with the cash to repurchase its cheaper units. As these catalysts come to fruition, they could provide Energy Transfer Equity with enough fuel to hit Credit Suisse's price target.

Dirt-cheap with catalysts, too

Kinder Morgan also lost value last year, falling 12.7% even though it completed its turnaround plan and cash flow was flat with 2016. The stock therefore currently trades for a ridiculously cheap valuation of 8.8 times cash flow, which is well below the 14.9 average of its peer group.

Any of several catalysts could push Kinder Morgan's valuation closer to that peer average. For starters, the company expects to boost its dividend 60% this year, which would move its yield closer to 4.4%, making it much more enticing to income investors. In addition to that, the company could buy back up to $500 million of its cheap stock this year, which could also provide a nudge. Finally, the pipeline giant has been weighed down by a delay in starting construction of its massive Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project. However, it recently won a key court battle, which could finally enable the company to move forward with this crucial project. The potential upside from these catalysts is why Credit Suisse' analysts aren't the only ones bullish on Kinder Morgan's stock

Pipes laid out for a natural gas pipeline.

Image source: Getty Images.

Growth coming down the pipeline

Western Gas Equity, which owns the IDRs of Western Gas Partners (NYSE:WES), also slumped last year, falling 12.3%. That decline came even though the company raised its distribution to investors by 20% over the past year, thanks to an increase in the IDRs it receives from Western Gas Partners.

That growth should continue this year. Western Gas Partners expects to invest between $1 billion and $1.1 billion on expansion projects, which should fuel 14% per earnings growth, enabling the company to increase its distribution to investors by 7%. A portion of that growing income stream will head to Western Gas Equity, giving it the money to boost its payout another 12% this year. The rising cash distributions alone should help drive Western Gas Equity's valuation higher this year.

The formula to outperform

All three of these energy stocks have two things in common. First, each lost value last year even though their underlying businesses held up just fine. Meanwhile, they all have visible growth on the horizon, which should enable them to send more money to investors in 2018. That combination gives them plenty of fuel to potentially outperform their peers this year. On top of that, they all pay a high-yield dividend, which means investors could earn an even higher total return from this trio in 2018. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.