Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (NYSE:BIP) showed yet again that slow and steady is the key to creating long-term value for investors. The owner and operator of power lines, pipelines, and ports continues to generate solid cash flow from its portfolio of rather boring infrastructure assets while continuing to demonstrate its ability to drive meaningful expansion of said portfolio by either building or acquiring additional assets to power its growth. Looking ahead, it sees the potential for accelerated growth in 2015, as trends within the global economy suggest that opportunities will abound.
Powering growth in 2014
Brookfield Infrastructure Partners reported solid financial results during the fourth quarter as it capped off another solid year. The company generated funds from operations, or FFO, of $180 million, or $0.86 per unit, which was up from $175 million or $0.83 in the fourth quarter of 2013. This pushed the company's full-year FFO to $724 million, or $3.45 per unit, which was up 5% over 2013 on a per-unit basis. However, on a comparable or "same store" basis, the company delivered 11% growth last year.
Powering this growth was the company's utility segment, which generated FFO growth of 12% on a comparable basis. That said, the segment's overall FFO dropped to $367 million from the $377 million it generated in 2013 due to the sale of its Australasian regulated distribution business. However, helping to partially overcome that sale was the company's record connection activity in its UK-regulated distribution operations, as well as the start-up of several projects into its rate base.
Moving over to transportation, Brookfield really accelerated this segment's FFO with the addition of its Brazilian toll roads and rail operations. These additions helped drive FFO to $392 million in 2014, which was well above the $326 million the segment earned in 2013.
Finally, Brookfield's energy segment fueled another steady supply of cash flow last year. The segment provided FFO of $68 million, which was in line with the previous year. Holding back growth was the challenging commodity environment, which negatively affected the results of the company's natural gas transmission segment as it offset the growth of the company's district energy operations.
Looking ahead to 2015
Brookfield expects to build off its solid 2014 by continuing to make smart, value-creating acquisitions. The company recently closed the acquisition of three previously announced deals, including gas storage businesses in California and Texas as well as a district energy system in Seattle. These deals should help fuel the company's energy segment in 2015. In addition to that, the company expects to close its $500 million investment in a French communication tower business before the end of the first quarter, which will create a new growth platform for the company.
Beyond these deals, the company sees the potential for significant opportunities in the year ahead due to trends within the global economy. In its letter to shareholders, the company pointed to four specific opportunities that could drive growth this year. These include government privatizations (especially in Australia), Brazilian construction companies, corporate deleveraging and carve-outs, and maturing infrastructure funds. These opportunities could lead to over a billion dollars in new investments from Brookfield this year, suggesting that the company is well positioned to achieve its FFO growth target.
Furthermore, because of these opportunities, Brookfield sees its distribution growing above the high end of its 5%-9% range. This would be a continuation of the company's recent trend, as it announced in its earnings release that it was boosting its payout by 10%.
Brookfield Infrastructure Partners simply continues to slowly and steadily grow its portfolio of infrastructure assets. It doesn't see any reason for that to change this year, as it sees four big trends that could lead to a number of new acquisition opportunities. That should drive continued growth in cash flow, which should in turn drive the company's distribution even higher.