Infrastructure has a pretty broad definition, including everything from pipelines to electric utility assets to toll roads, railroads, and seaports. What's fairly universal is that infrastructure generally doesn't get the credit it deserves given how important it is to the global economy. In fact, many infrastructure stocks are reliable, high-yielding dividend payers. If that sounds interesting, then you'll want to look at Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (BIP 0.06%), Enterprise Products Partners (EPD 0.12%), and, despite its more modest dividend yield, NextEra Energy (NEE -0.28%).
1. The all-in-one
As noted above, infrastructure covers a lot of ground. Brookfield Infrastructure Partners has most of that ground covered in its portfolio, with assets spanning across the utility, pipeline, toll road, railroad, port, and data sectors, among others. In addition, it owns assets in North American, South American, Europe, and Asia. In other words, this is a one-stop-shop for investors seeking out infrastructure investments. And if you aren't a fan of the master limited partnership structure (MLP), you can buy Brookfield Infrastructure Corporation (BIPC 1.09%), which is basically an alternative share class (offered only recently) that avoids the tax implications inherent with MLPs.
Brookfield Infrastructure Partners has a pretty long and successful history, and it actively manages its portfolio. That means it tends to buy out-of-favor assets to upgrade and run, and then sells them if it gets a generous offer. It puts the cash from sales right back into its portfolio.
There are any number of ways to show how the MLP has done over time, but probably the best one is that Brookfield Infrastructure Partners has increased its distribution annually for 14 consecutive years at a compound annual rate of 10% over the past decade. That's pretty impressive, and it hasn't gone unnoticed. The yield here is just 3.5% (slightly lower for Brookfield Infrastructure Corporation), near the low end of its historical range. That said, if you want a simple way to invest broadly in the infrastructure space, and you intend to hold for a long time, it might be worth paying up here for the combination of diversification and dividend growth.
2. Way out of favor
If you have a value focus, you will likely find Enterprise Products Partners more to your liking. This MLP is one of the largest owners of energy infrastructure in North America, with a virtually irreplaceable collection of pipelines, storage, processing, and transportation assets. It has increased its distribution annually for nearly a quarter of a century (it is on the verge of becoming a Dividend Aristocrat), and its distributable cash flow covered its distribution by a hefty 1.7 times in the third quarter. Its balance sheet is also rock-solid, with a financial debt to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) ratio that's lower than that of its closest peers (by industry scale). Its yield, meanwhile, is a hefty 8.4%, toward the high end of its historical range.
Why is the yield so high? Well, for starters the company is tied to the carbon economy, as it moves oil and natural gas (and the things these fuels get turned into). It's likely to be decades before clean energy makes carbon fuels obsolete, but investors are downbeat on the sector just the same. And given that there is an energy transition taking shape, growth is likely to be slow in the future. Notably, distribution growth has recently been in the low-single-digit space, and isn't likely to pick up soon. Essentially, this could be a good call for conservative investors that are looking to maximize current income.
3. In favor in a big way
NextEra Energy is going to be a tough sell for value types, but growth investors, including those focused on dividend growth, may still like it. To get the ugly news out of the way, the stock's yield is a tiny 1.7%, near the lowest levels seen in the company's history. To be fair, that's still materially more generous (30% to be exact) than the 1.3% you'd get from an S&P 500 Index fund, but hardly something to write home about on an absolute basis. Part of the reason for this is that NextEra Energy has a high-growth renewable power business, and investors are hot on renewable power today.
The thing is, you can find higher-yielding names in the renewable power space. But before you do that, it's important to note that NextEra is actually two businesses in one. That renewable power business is being built atop the largest electric utility in the United States, a rock-solid foundation that pure-play renewable power stocks lack. That gives investors here something to fall back on. And it's important to note that the core utility operation is really what has supported NextEra's over-25 years of annual dividend hikes -- and the dividend has grown at an impressive 10% clip over the past decade. If you want to own renewable infrastructure, which is totally reasonable, hedging your bet with NextEra and its dominant utility business is probably worth the extra cost. If clean energy investments fall out of favor for some reason, this company will still have a massive utility business it can grow.
A little something for everyone
Investors looking for an investment in the infrastructure space have a number of options to choose from, but if your plan is to hold for the long term it probably makes sense to err on the side of caution. On that front, Brookfield Infrastructure is easily one of the most diversified ways to play the industry. Enterprise is out of favor, but its well covered and historically high distribution will probably interest income investors.
NextEra, meanwhile, is a way to get into the clean energy sector while still making sure you have a backstop in the form of its giant utility operations, just in case investor sentiment turns against renewable power stocks for some reason.