Last year, Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (NYSE:BIP) was on fire as it produced a total return of nearly 40%, which crushed the red-hot S&P 500's 22% total return. Powering the infrastructure giant's gains was a needle-moving acquisition, which helped drive cash flow up 24% versus 2017.
This year, however, has been a different story as Brookfield has trailed the market badly by producing a negative total return of 13% versus the slightly more than 2% gain from the S&P 500. Because of that decline, and an 8% distribution increase earlier this year, Brookfield Instructure currently yields an attractive 4.93%. That's a great starting point for income-seeking investors, making this month a great time to consider buying this high-yield stock.
What's driving Brookfield's underperformance in 2018?
Brookfield Infrastructure Partners has continued its torrid earnings growth pace in 2018, delivering an impressive 20% year-over-year improvement in cash flow per share during the first quarter. Powering that strong start to the year was the continued impact from the acquisition of a major natural gas pipeline system in Brazil, which helped boost earnings in its utilities segment by 69% versus the first quarter of 2017.
That acquisition, however, won't provide nearly as much growth in the coming quarters because the company has now owned the asset for more than a year, so it will start going up against tougher comparable quarters. That timing isn't ideal because the company recently sold a large electric transmission business in Chile, which "may act as a partial drag on our near-term" cash flow, according to CEO Sam Pollock. Because of those two factors, Brookfield's cash flow could decline in the coming quarters until it puts the cash proceeds from that asset sale to work. That near-term cash flow headwind is why Brookfield Infrastructure has underperformed in 2018.
One step back to take two forward
While Brookfield's cash flow could head in reverse over the next couple of quarters, the company sold its Chilean transmission business to free up capital so that it could pursue higher-returning opportunities. That deal, along with a debt offering on its Brazilian pipeline unit, will bolster its liquidity to more than $4.5 billion, which is a huge war chest considering Brookfield Infrastructure's $28 billion enterprise value.
The company has already allocated some of that capital to several growth initiatives it has under way. Brookfield expects to invest $2 billion into high-return expansion projects over the next few years, which will help bolster cash flow as they come on line. In addition to that, the company is in the process of acquiring a gas distribution business in Colombia. It already bought an 11% stake in the entity and is working to buy a larger stake.
Meanwhile, Brookfield noted in its last letter to investors that it's currently reviewing a large opportunity set in the North American energy infrastructure market to make acquisitions, as well as partner with industry players that need financing for expansion projects. The company wrote in that letter that it's "in various stages of discussions with large midstream energy companies and are encouraged by the number of interesting opportunities in front of us." While there are no guarantees that Brookfield will find the right deals to move the needle, the large opportunity set in front of the company certainly increases the odds that it could put its cash to work quickly.
In addition to the near-term opportunities in the North American energy infrastructure space, Brookfield is also looking to build out its water business, as well as make investments in the data infrastructure space, in smart cities, and in Asia. While those are longer-term plays, the company believes it should have no shortage of growth opportunities ahead as it expands its global infrastructure empire.
This sale might not last long
Brookfield's sell-off due to its currently uncertain growth prospects provides investors with an excellent opportunity to not only buy the company for a better price but also lock in a yield of nearly 5%. That sets investors up to potentially earn double-digit returns in the coming years as the company's growth-focused investments begin paying off. That's too good of an opportunity to pass up, in my opinion, which is why I plan on adding to my Brookfield position this month.