Which asset class is most likely to outperform over the next decade: telecommunications networks in France, large-scale heating and cooling infrastructure in Australia, or railroads in Brazil? If you answered "no clue," you're not alone. The good news is, you can invest in all of these -- and more -- by buying into the diversified master limited partnership (MLP) Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (BIP -2.23%).
Well, that's great for portfolio diversification, but there's more to an investment than a list of assets. Investors also need to consider how well the company is managed, what kind of returns it's likely to offer, and what might derail the investment thesis. Let's look more closely at Brookfield to see whether it really looks like a buy.
Managing to impress
Brookfield's general partner is Brookfield Asset Management (BN 0.78%), which also controls other MLPs, including Brookfield Renewable Partners and Brookfield Property Partners. Those two MLPs focus on renewable energy and real estate, respectively, leaving Brookfield Infrastructure Partners to serve as a diversified catchall for many types of infrastructure assets, including energy, transportation, telecom, and real estate.
However, the entire Brookfield family is well managed, as you can tell from the big increases they've seen over the past five years in share price, dividends/distributions, and enterprise value:
Brookfield Property Partners' share price decline is the exception. But look at how Brookfield Infrastructure's enterprise value has skyrocketed nearly 230% over the last five years!
In addition, the underlying financials also look good: Over the last three years, revenue is up 177.7%, operating cash flow is up 146.2%, and EBITDA is up 96.8%.
This strong track record should give investors confidence. However, there are a couple of numbers that don't look so good.
Sharing the wealth a bit too much
Despite those strong three-year trends (which look similarly strong over five- and 10-year periods), the company's earnings per share (EPS) have cratered. This is partly due to depreciation expenses, which tend to be high for infrastructure companies. But it also reflects a 24.2% increase in the number of shares outstanding. At the same time, Brookfield's debt load has risen by a staggering 131.3%:
The reason this is happening at the same time the company is growing its revenue and enterprise value is the nature of infrastructure investing. It's a capital-intensive business, requiring lots of up-front investment to buy or improve assets, followed by a long-term payoff. Up to now, Brookfield has taken on debt and issued more shares to raise the funds it needs to purchase those assets.
But Brookfield Infrastructure's management team is making a change to this strategy. It now plans to sell mature assets and use the proceeds to purchase new assets. In fact, in 2018, Brookfield sold a stake in a group of Chilean electricity assets and used some of the proceeds to buy data distribution assets in New Zealand, which are expected to see a higher rate of return.
This shift in strategy may pay off for investors.
Coming down the pike
Looking ahead, Brookfield expects to keep growing. The company has been posting double-digit organic growth in operating cash flow, which exceeds its target of 6% to 9%. However, the company will still grow through acquisition, too, and indeed Brookfield has upwards of $2 billion in expansion projects slated for the next few years, in addition to some high-profile recent transactions.
Those transactions include the aforementioned New Zealand data distribution assets, as wells as acquisitions of railroad Genesee and Wyoming, a cross-border gas pipeline in Texas and Mexico, and telecom towers in India.
In other words, Brookfield doesn't look like a company that's slowing down, and its assets continue to be both global and diversified.
To buy or not to buy
Brookfield Infrastructure Partners looks like a solid investment. It's growing its asset base, its cash flow, and its dividend: all pluses for investors. Two of the big minuses for the company -- rising debt and dilution -- will be mitigated by its recent shift in strategy. And while earnings per share are down, EBITDA -- which strips out the heavy depreciation expenses associated with infrastructure assets -- is up. Finally, its diverse group of holdings make for a safe investment, regardless of whether Brazilian railroads underperform or the French telecom market collapses.
All in all, Brookfield Infrastructure Partners looks like a buy.