Kinder Morgan Inc (NYSE:KMI) is expected to report fourth-quarter results this Wednesday. It will be an interesting quarter as the largest energy infrastructure company in North America completed the merger of its MLP affiliates during the quarter, which should have a big impact on results. On top of that, oil prices continue to spin out of control, which could have an impact not only on the quarter, but on growth going forward. Suffice it to say, investors have a lot to keep an eye on this quarter.
First, let's review
Kinder Morgan had a very good year in 2014. It was one of the few energy-related companies to actually beat the market last year. It did so on the strength of its quarterly results as well as the fact that investors applauded its consolidation merger to bring all of its publicly traded MLPs and affiliates under one investment vehicle. As the following slide notes, the deal set the company up for strong growth through the end of the decade.
Because the merger closed in the middle of the quarter, Kinder Morgan's results will be a bit more complex than investors are used to seeing. Here's how to make sense of the report and what investors need to watch.
First area to watch: The new way the company reports results
Kinder Morgan's results are typically focused on the cash flow it generates from its ownership interests in its MLPs as well as other assets. Now that those assets are all under one roof, investors will need to get used to a new set of numbers. More specifically, investors will need to get used to the company's new operating segments, which we see on the following chart.
As the slide notes, the consolidated company's cash flow now comes from five operating segments. These segments will be what will drive the consolidated business going forward, with natural gas pipelines doing most of the heavy lifting. With this change, investors will need to familiarize themselves with the new reporting structure, while also staying on the lookout for any weaknesses reported by any of these segments.
Second area to watch: The impact of oil prices on its CO2 business
Investors should pay special attention to the company's carbon dioxide segment, as the oil production from this segment represents 14% of total earnings. Obviously, the big drop in oil prices will have an impact, but the impact is muted by the company's rather robust hedging program. As was noted on the last slide, 82% of the company's production was hedged in 2014 at $95 per barrel, so the downside is limited in the fourth quarter.
That said, for every $1 drop in the price of oil the company's cash flow is nicked by $7 million over the course of a full year. This could prove to be an issue in 2015 as Kinder Morgan projected that oil prices would average $70 per barrel for the full year. Because oil prices are now well below this level, investors will need to watch to see if the company makes any adjustments to its full-year projections to reflect the continued weakness in the oil market.
Third area to watch: The growth of the backlog
The last area investors need to keep an eye on is the company's backlog, which stood at $17.9 billion as of the end of the third quarter, as we see on the following slide.
As that slide notes, Kinder Morgan expected to complete $1 billion in projects during the fourth quarter. The good news is that these projects likely started to generate cash flow in the past quarter and should have helped to contribute to what's expected to be another solid quarter for the company. However, in order to ensure future growth, the company needs to continue adding new projects to its backlog, and ideally, the backlog will show a net gain in the quarter, as Kinder Morgan will hopefully secure more than a $1 billion in new commitments. Investors should also focus their attention to new project announcements that are driven by demand for natural gas by end users, such as for LNG exports facilities or industrial users, as this represents a whole new chapter to the company's growth story.
Kinder Morgan investors have been largely spared the turmoil that hit the energy sector over the past few months. The company's relative safety should continue, as it's largely insulated from commodity prices because of its fee-based business model. Because of that, its quarter should be solid, even if it does face some headwinds from falling oil prices.