Traditionally, dividend payments, if a company chooses to make them, have been doled out on a quarterly basis, with some stingier companies only putting money in your pocket once a year. However, a select group of companies have chosen to reward their investors on a monthly basis. Now, oil and gas producer LINN Energy (OTC:LINEQ) and its affiliate LinnCo (UNKNOWN:LNCO.DL) have decided to join that select group.
Is it possible that we'll see more companies make the switch to monthly dividend payments? I think the answer is yes; but before we get into that, let's first consider why a company would switch to monthly payouts in the first place.
Among LINN's peers in this select group is Vanguard Natural Resources (OTC:VNRSQ). Both LINN and Vanguard are structured similar to an MLP for tax purposes. This structure leads to high distributions, because it requires nearly all of the company's earnings be returned to investors. The similarities don't end there, as both LINN and Vanguard are engaged in the production of oil and gas.
The reason these companies exist is to turn mature oil and gas wells into income sources for investors. That's why when Vanguard made the switch last year. Its CFO Richard Robert commented:
We have listened to investors and we believe that we are giving them what they want. A monthly distribution should allow investors to better manage their finances by matching their monthly cash outflows with monthly cash inflows. In addition, a monthly distribution will allow us to reward our investors in a timelier manner as we make accretive acquisitions in the future. We believe the decision to pay distributions monthly rather than quarterly will be welcomed by both our current Vanguard unitholders as well as other potential investors looking to invest in high yielding energy securities.
This move has indeed been welcomed by investors, which is why LINN is now following suit. So, while Vanguard was first to the market, and even trademarked the fact that it's the "monthly distribution MLP," I think you'll see even more energy MLPs joining the group.
While both Vanguard and LINN are oil and gas producers, I think that oil and gas midstream companies will be the next to make the move. A company like Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE:EPD) would make a great, though unlikely, candidate. Enterprise has raised its distribution for 35 consecutive quarters, and it has a long pipeline of visible growth projects with $7.5 billion of projects planned through 2015, indicating future distribution growth. Further, its interests are aligned with investors, so if its investors wanted to be paid more often, I think that Enterprise would be willing to make that switch.
However, I don't expect Enterprise to switch to a monthly dividend anytime soon. Instead, smaller MLPs that are looking to draw attention from investors or those companies that are struggling to grow distributions would make the more ideal candidates. That's why you could see a company like Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE:ETP), which has struggled to raise its distribution in recent years, think about making the switch. Energy Transfer investors have languished without a distribution raise from 20 consecutive quarters, so until the company is able to restart its distribution growth, it would make an ideal candidate to switch to monthly payouts.
We can speculate all day as to which companies might make the switch. That being said, I don't think investors will have to wait too long, as I think that Vanguard and, now, LINN Energy have begun a new trend. Because a lot of income investors, like retirees, use the income to pay current bills, those companies that provide more regular income are going to be highly sought after. That's why I do think that monthly distributions will be the next big trend to watch, at least in the sleepy MLP space.