Toll roads, natural gas pipelines, and power lines are not exactly exciting assets to talk about. But these assets have powered Brookfield Infrastructure Partners L.P. (NYSE:BIP) to deliver 34% annualized returns for investors over the past five years. That same power should be on display this Wednesday when the company announces third-quarter results before the market opens. Here are the three key things to look for in that report.
1. Numbers that actually matter
Wall Street analysts are expecting Brookfield Infrastructure Partners to report earnings of $0.57 per unit. However, don't get too caught up on this number. First of all, analysts are terrible at predicting Brookfield's quarterly earnings, as they have been off by 53%, 422.9%, 73.7%, and 97.2% over the past year. Not only that, but the number really is meaningless for a publicly traded partnership like Brookfield, because it can be greatly affected by gains from asset sales or hedging losses.
Instead, our attention should be on funds from operations, or FFO, which is a proxy for the actual cash flow that Brookfield generates in a given quarter from its underlying assets. Last quarter, for example, the company reported FFO of $180 million, or $0.86 per unit, which was substantially higher than net income of $13 million, or a penny per share, which missed Wall Street estimates by more than 97%. So, what we're looking for this quarter is FFO of $180 million or better.
2. Contribution from acquisitions
Last quarter Brookfield Infrastructure Partners noted that it expected to close a number of acquisitions totaling about $450 million before the end of 2014. Those new assets are the key to the company's ability to deliver strong growth in FFO.
In August the company was expected to close on its investment in VLI, which is a Brazilian rail and port business, as well as Macquarie District Energy in Chicago. As long as both of those deals closed on time, then the company shouldn't have had any issues topping $180 million in FFO this quarter. Furthermore, the company had two additional deals pending, the Elizabeth container terminal in the Port of New York/New Jersey, and Seattle Steam, which could have also closed in the quarter. If these deals closed early, then it's quite possible that Brookfield will deliver even stronger FFO this quarter.
3. Impacts to FFO at each business segment
Brookfield Infrastructure Partners breaks down its business by three segments: utilities, transport and energy. Investors will want to take a peek at segment results to make sure there weren't any big issues. For example, last quarter the energy business generated about $2 million less in FFO than in the second quarter of 2013 due to a couple of issues. The company's North American natural gas business transported less gas than the year before, and a warmer winter in the U.K. affected results of the energy distribution business in the country. Both were minor, short-term problems that didn't have a big impact on cash flow. What we want to look for is whether any of the company's segment results have been affected by something that could prove to be a long-term problem such as an unexpected change in demand or a lost contract.
Brookfield Infrastructure Partners is expected to deliver strong cash flow again this quarter. How much cash flow will really depend on the timing of some acquisitions the company has pending as well as any negative issues that impact any one of its assets. We're not expecting any problems, but we always need to be mindful that issues can arise that could cause the company to miss expectations.