Canadian asset manager Brookfield Asset Management (BN -0.59%) is the mastermind behind Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (BIP -0.44%), but they aren't interchangeable investments. That fact has become even more clear over the past year, as the overall Brookfield organization made a big move in a new direction. Here's what people have long expected from this pair and why now things are very different.

All infrastructure all the time

Brookfield Infrastructure Partners is one of many master limited partnerships run by Brookfield Asset Management. As its name implies, it owns infrastructure assets. The key, however, is that it owns a huge and diversified array of infrastructure assets, making it something of a one-stop shop for investors looking to gain exposure to the space. That is one of its biggest allures. 

A street sign that reads where to invest

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To put some numbers on that, the partnership breaks its portfolio down into four main categories: utilities, transport, energy, and data infrastructure. But that's a high-level view, with the list of assets including such things as regulated transmission, regulated distribution, regulated terminals, railroads, toll roads, ports, natural gas pipelines, distributed energy, data transmission and distribution, and data storage. Brookfield Infrastructure Partners has its fingers in a lot of different pies. And those pies are spread across the globe, with assets located in the Americas, Europe, and the Asian Pacific region. This is easily one of the most diversified options investors have in the infrastructure space.  

Better yet, Brookfield Infrastructure Partners has a solid history of returning value to unitholders. The best way to show that is with its distribution, which has been increased annually for 13 consecutive years. The average increase over the past decade was a generous 11%, handily besting the historical rate of inflation growth (around 3%). The units currently yield roughly 4.2%, which isn't huge but is still more than twice what you would get from an S&P 500 Index fund. Better yet, the partnership believes that the mixture of internal investment, contractual rate increases, and economic growth will allow it to sustainably grow funds from operations by 6% to 9% a year. Opportunistic dispositions and acquisitions could add to that number over time.   

Change is afoot

So, if you are looking for an infrastructure play, Brookfield Infrastructure Partners should probably be on your short list. However, many would also put Brookfield Asset Management on that list, too, because it is the general partner for Brookfield Infrastructure Partners and other partnerships focused on infrastructure assets, including more specific niches like real estate and clean energy. This isn't a misplaced idea -- Brookfield Asset Management has an over 100-year history of investing its own money and client money in physical assets. The difference is that, as an asset manager, its core source of income is the fees it collects for running the money it invests (including the fees it earns for acting as the general partner of Brookfield Infrastructure Partners). 

For a long time it was a way to play the infrastructure space from a slightly different angle. But there's been an important change as Brookfield Asset Management looks to grow its business. Most notably it recently acquired a controlling interest in Oaktree Capital (OAK), a highly regarded bond specialist. This is likely to be a very good investment for Brookfield Asset Management, as it broadens the company's reach into a new area in a very big way. Indeed, Oaktree now accounts for roughly 40% of Brookfield Asset Management's assets under management.   

There's nothing inherently wrong with Brookfield Asset Management as a company. In fact, for some investors, it may be more attractive now that it has begun to expand beyond its infrastructure roots. However, it's not really a unique way to play the infrastructure space anymore. Brookfield Asset Management is now best compared only to other asset managers, not infrastructure options, because bonds have become such a large part of the equation. 

What are you looking for?

Brookfield Asset Management has a long history in the infrastructure space, including its success in managing Brookfield Infrastructure Partners. But if you are looking for a way to invest in infrastructure, Brookfield Asset Management's Oaktree purchase changes the game in a big way. That's not to suggest it is a bad company, only that it is no longer the same infrastructure-focused company that it was before Oaktree. If infrastructure is what you are looking to invest in, Brookfield Infrastructure Partners is the better choice here.