Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) is coming off a down year after its stock dropped 12.7% in 2017. That slump happened even though the company's earnings were right on target through the first three quarters, putting it on pace to hit its full-year guidance. We'll know for sure if the company hit that mark later this week when it posts fourth-quarter and full-year results.
In addition to officially closing the book on 2017, that report could also be a major catalyst for the stock, with the following three things potentially fueling a big move this week.
1. Expectation-beating results would prove it's heading in the right direction
Through the third quarter, Kinder Morgan had generated $3.3 billion, or $1.47 per share, of distributable cash flow (DCF), which is money it could pay out to shareholders. Considering that those results put the pipeline giant on pace to hit its full-year guidance, it implies the company should produce roughly $1.54 billion, or $0.52 per share, of DCF in the fourth quarter.
That said, the company might exceed that guidance because it based its budget on oil averaging $53 per barrel last year while crude was in the mid- to upper $50s for most of the fourth quarter. Those higher oil prices, along with what should be strong oil and gas volumes flowing through its systems, could have pushed Kinder Morgan's DCF above expectations. If that's the case, those results could help give the stock a lift because it would show that the company's long-awaited rebound is finally here.
2. Planning to make quick work of the buyback cash shows it believes the stock is too cheap
Last December, Kinder Morgan put out its expectations for 2018, which included guidance that DCF would grow 3% this year to $4.57 billion, or $2.05 per share. That would give it enough money to finance $2.2 billion of expansion projects, including the recently sanctioned Gulf Coast Express project, and a dividend rate 60% higher than last year, with $500 million in excess cash flow.
The company said that it could reinvest that extra money into additional high-return growth projects or repurchase its stock. But given that shares currently trade for just 9.5 times DCF while rivals sell for 14.9 times, the buyback would be an excellent use of that money. Consequently, an announcement that it has already started repurchasing shares would show the market that the company firmly believes its stock is too cheap. That corporate buying could spur other investors to join in, which might drive shares higher.
3. Progress on the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project would lift a huge weight
One thing that has weighed on Kinder Morgan's stock over the past year was growing concerns that it might not be able to move forward with the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project in Canada. Initially, the company had hoped to begin construction last fall, which would put it on pace for completion by the end of 2019. However, it has experienced many delays, including in receiving some key permits. As a result, the in-service date on the expansion could get pushed back by nine months, and there's still a risk the project could be canceled.
Neither option would be good news since, at $5.8 billion, this project represents roughly half of the investment opportunities in its backlog. Therefore, investors will want to see if the company has any positive news on the project, which is possible since it did win a key court battle last December. If it seems optimistic about starting construction soon, it could help lift the weight of uncertainty that has been holding shares down over the past year.
Still a bargain no matter what happens this week
While Kinder Morgan's stock slipped last year, it has been red-hot in 2018, up 8% in the past two weeks, likely because investors expect some of these three catalysts to come to fruition. If they do, shares could continue to rebound. But even if that happens, they would still be a good buy because they should have plenty of room to run since the company probably won't reverse its entire valuation discount in one week. Meanwhile, if it unexpectedly disappoints, and the stock gives back its recent gains, it would likely be an excellent buying opportunity since shares would be an even more incredible bargain.
Matthew DiLallo owns shares of Kinder Morgan and has the following options: long January 2018 $30 calls on Kinder Morgan and short March 2018 $17 puts on Kinder Morgan. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Kinder Morgan. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.