Natural gas pipeline-giant Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) is off to a surprisingly poor start in 2018, with shares falling more than 16% since the beginning of the year. It's a head-scratching slide, considering that the company ended last year on a high note and expects to start growing again in 2018. If there's one benefit to the stock's slide, it's that income investors can lock in a higher yield of more than 3%.

That low price, however, might not last all that much longer since Kinder Morgan typically reports first-quarter results in April -- which could be just the ticket to get the stock out of its current doldrums. While that report might contain a few surprises, one thing to expect is the official declaration of a long-awaited dividend boost.

A close-up of a stack of $100 bills.

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The declaration investors have been waiting for

Last July, Kinder Morgan unveiled plans to return significantly more cash flow to investors starting in 2018. The company said it would boost its dividend by 60% this year and at a 25% rate in 2019 and 2020. Further, it authorized a $2 billion share-repurchase program.

Since that time, the company has continued paying dividends at the previous rate, including this past February when it paid out its final one for 2017. If the company sticks with its plan, it should declare a dividend at the promised higher rate when it reports first-quarter results, likely in the middle of April.

If history is any guide, investors will need to have purchased shares by the market's close on May 1 to be eligible to receive that payment. Given this timeline, investors might want to consider buying shares in April since they would lock in a forward yield of more than 5%, based on where the stock trades right now.

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

Image source: Getty Images.

Investors could also be in for a pleasant surprise

Another reason to consider buying in April -- especially before the company announces first-quarter results -- is that the upcoming report could prove to be a catalyst for the stock. The company's current guidance calls for it to pull in about $4.57 billion, or $2.05 per share, in distributable cash flow (DCF) this year, with about 26% of that, or $1.89 billion ($0.53 per share), expected in the first quarter. However, it wouldn't surprise me if the company beat that forecast due to the impact of higher oil prices and its stock repurchase program.

In fact, the company has quietly repurchased 27 million shares for $500 million over the past few months, which alone equates to about 1% of shares outstanding. That factor alone could drive results above its forecast this year.

In addition to that potential upside surprise, Kinder Morgan could unveil others that get investors back in a buying mood. The one that would likely have the most impact is a positive update on its Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project in Canada. The company noted last quarter that its Canadian subsidiary, Kinder Morgan Canada Limited (TSX:KML), has run into permitting delays. As a result, Kinder Morgan Canada hasn't started construction and probably won't finish the project until the end of 2020, a full year behind schedule.

Kinder Morgan Canada has been working with the Canadian government to resolve these issues and has the full support of the country's Prime Minister. However, a favorable ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal, which wouldn't even hear the case against the pipeline, could enable the company to "get shovels in the ground," according to Rachel Notley, the Premier of Alberta.

While those opposed to the pipeline vowed to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada, it's looking increasingly likely that Kinder Morgan could finally start construction on this long-awaited project, which could be a catalyst for the stock.

A great month to consider buying

Kinder Morgan's stock appears as if it's on the cusp of turning the corner. That shift could come as early as this month when the company reports its first-quarter results, which will likely feature the official declaration of the long-promised 60% dividend increase and might even contain some upside surprises, as well.

Those catalysts are why investors might want to consider buying before the month's end, especially if they'd like to collect the next dividend payment. However, with ample dividend growth ahead, investors with a long-term mindset should be in no rush.

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.