Kinder Morgan (KMI -0.05%) will close the book on 2018 later this week when it unveils its fourth-quarter results. The company was on track for an excellent year through the third quarter, with results that outpaced its forecasts even though it sold its controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline system to the Canadian government.

However, given that oil prices declined during the fourth quarter, this next set of results might not be as good as management hoped. That's one of several things that investors should keep an eye on when Kinder Morgan reports results after the market closes on Wednesday.

A burst of sunlight shining on a pipeline.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Did earnings indeed exceed expectations?

Heading into 2018, Kinder Morgan anticipated that it would generate $4.57 billion, or $2.05 per share, in distributable cash flow for the year. Through the third quarter, the company produced $3.46 billion, or $1.56 per share, in cash, which was about $215 million, or $0.10 per share, ahead of its budget despite the lost income from the sale of Trans Mountain. That led the company to believe that it would exceed its financial targets for the year.

For that to happen, Kinder Morgan will have had to earn more than $1.11 billion, or $0.49 per share, during the fourth quarter, which is comfortably below its forecast of $1.32 billion, or $0.59 per share, for the quarter. While the company did face headwinds from the sale of Trans Mountain and lower oil prices, it began Q4 far enough ahead that it should have been able to top its full-year forecast with room to spare. However, if it didn't, then investors should look for the specific issues that caused it to miss, and whether they were one-time events, or problems that could have longer-term impacts.

2. Has Kinder Morgan locked up any new expansion projects?

When Kinder Morgan sold the Trans Mountain Pipeline, it not only lost the system's current income stream -- it lost the largest growth project in its backlog. The company has been slowly replacing that lost growth by securing new expansions, including two large-scale natural gas pipelines out of the Permian Basin. However, it needs to continue acquiring more growth projects if it's going to keep increasing earnings.

Given that need, investors should be  if the company locked up any more during the quarter other than the small refined products pipeline expansion it sanctioned last month. Kinder Morgan has set a target of securing $2 billion to $3 billion of capital projects per year -- at the low end, that would grow its earnings at a 4% annual rate. 

A pipeline under construction.

Image source: Getty Images.

3. Has it made a decision about the future of Kinder Morgan Canada?

Another impact of the Trans Mountain Pipeline sale was that it left the company's publicly traded Canadian subsidiary, Kinder Morgan Canada (KML), without a purpose, since it formed that entity specifically to fund the construction of the pipeline's expansion. Because of that, Kinder Morgan has been exploring its options for Kinder Morgan Canada, which include selling it, merging it with another midstream company in Canada, taking it private, or keeping it public.

It would be ideal if Kinder Morgan announced what it plans to do with that entity this week, since a decision would remove some of the uncertainty surrounding the parent company's future. If it doesn't, investors should look for word that the company has set a deadline for when it will make a decision, or any hints that one is coming soon.

Check out the latest Kinder Morgan earnings call transcript.