Despite some headwinds, Williams Companies (NYSE:WMB) has delivered on its promised growth this year. The natural gas pipeline giant expects to generate roughly $3.1 billion in cash flow, which would be about 8% higher than last year's level. That growth comes even though commodity prices were much weaker than expected, and it sold several assets to shore up its balance sheet. This growing cash flow gave it the fuel to increase its dividend by 12% -- which was within its 10% to 15% target range -- while maintaining a conservative payout ratio of 60%.
Unfortunately, Williams' headwinds will have a more noticeable impact in 2020. However, the company expects to continue growing both its cash flow and its dividend next year. Add that to its stronger financial profile, and this 6.8%-yielding stock is an excellent one for income-seeking investors.
Drilling down into what Williams sees ahead in 2020
Williams Companies warned its investors on its third-quarter call that it saw a speed bump ahead in 2020 resulting from lower natural gas prices. The company has since provided a more detailed look at what it expects next year by unveiling its guidance for 2020 at its recent Analyst Day.
The company said that it should generate $5.1 billion in adjusted EBITDA next year, which would only be about 2% ahead of this year's level. That's well short of the pipeline company's initial expectations that its adjusted EBITDA would grow by a 5% to 7% rate after 2019.
However, the company noted that it expects its distributable cash flow -- which is money it could pay out in dividends -- to increase by 5% next year. Williams plans to grow its payout by another 5% in 2020, which would enable it to maintain a conservative 60% dividend payout ratio.
One of the factors fueling the larger projected uptick in cash flow is an expected reduction in interest expenses as the company refinances maturing debt. After selling nearly $1.1 billion in assets last year, Williams' leverage ratio has improved to less than 4.5 times debt-to-EBITDA. While that's above its 4.2 target, it's a comfortable level for a pipeline company, and it can now borrow money at cheaper rates. In its view, it can save nearly $50 million in annual interest expenses by refinancing its nearest-term debt maturities.
Plenty of fuel to keep growing after next year
In addition to providing a detailed picture of what the company sees ahead in 2020, Williams also gave investors a glimpse at what to expect beyond next year. The main takeaway was that the company continues to believe it can grow its adjusted EBITDA and cash flow by a 5% to 7% compound annual rate over the long term.
Fueling that growth is a long list of expansion projects that Williams has under construction and in development. The company plans to invest about $1.2 billion on expansion projects this year. One of the largest investments is on the Bluestem project. The company expects to spend $350 million to $400 million on this natural gas liquids (NGLs) pipeline that will connect Williams' assets in the Rockies to markets along the Gulf Coast via Targa Resources (NYSE:TRGP) Grand Prix NGL system. The project should come online in the first quarter of 2021, providing a boost to Williams' results. In addition, the company expects to invest another $3.2 billion across seven projects on its Transco pipeline system that should come online through 2023.
Meanwhile, Williams has several other projects in development. In addition to more Transco expansions, Williams expects to see increased utilization of its assets in the Gulf of Mexico as oil companies bring recent discoveries near its existing assets online. Projects to develop three of these finds -- Whale, Ballymore, and Anchor -- should start up in the 2023 to 2024 timeframe, providing incremental cash flow to Williams' systems.
In Williams' view, it can spend between $2 billion and $3 billion per year through at least 2028 on projects like these to expand its infrastructure. That should support its expectation that earnings and cash flow can grow at a 5% to 7% compound annual rate during that timeframe, which should yield similar yearly increases in its dividend.
An excellent high-yield stock for the long term
While Williams Companies' growth rate will slow in 2020, the company still expects to give its investors a decent dividend increase. Meanwhile, with a growing backlog of expansion projects under construction and in development, the pipeline giant should be able to continue increasing its payout at a healthy rate for the next several years. That makes this 6.8%-yielding stock an ideal one for investors seeking a steadily growing income stream.