Note: This article was updated on Feb. 6, 2017, and originally published June 5, 2015.
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According to analysts, North America needs to invest $641 billion in energy infrastructure by 2035 to meet growing demand. That is expected to triple the annual investment rate, which should drive strong growth for pipeline stocks over the next few decades. While there should be many winners, in my opinion, the best five stocks to invest in the growth of pipeline infrastructure in North America are below. Meanwhile, if you are looking for a more updated article, check out this piece on the best pipeline stocks.
1. The energy infrastructure kingpin
Investors looking to profit from the pipeline boom should take a close look at Kinder Morgan Inc (NYSE:KMI). It is the undisputed leader in energy infrastructure because it is the largest energy midstream company in North America. In fact, the company owns and operates the largest natural gas pipeline network in North America, at nearly 69,000 miles.
In addition to that, Kinder Morgan is the largest independent transporter of petroleum products in North America, the largest transporter of carbon dioxide, and the biggest independent terminal operator. It also owns the only oil sands pipeline serving Canada's West Coast.
As the map below shows, the company truly has an unparalleled asset footprint in North America.
That footprint is expected to grow over the next few years, with the company's backlog of growth projects nearly $12 billion.
2. The leader in liquids
While Kinder Morgan is the overall leader in many categories, Enterprise Products Partners L.P. (NYSE:EPD) is the clear leader for natural gas liquids or NGLs. In fact, the company derives more than half of its gross margin from its NGL pipeline and services segment.
One of the company's strengths is its ability to export NGLs. It is the global leader in propane export capacity, and it is investing to extend that leadership into another key NGL -- ethane -- by building a new ethane export facility along the Gulf Coast. Further, the company owns the strategic assets that have it well positioned to export oil now that the U.S. has lifted the oil export ban.
Enterprise Products Partners is a very well-run pipeline company with a strong balance sheet and several billion dollars in growth projects under construction to drive future growth.
3. The pipeline company with a great pipeline
Pipeline companies are spending billions of dollars each year to grow their networks, and many have visibility well into the future because of a strong pipeline of future projects. In Williams Companies Inc's (NYSE: WMB) case, it has several expansion projects under way at its crown jewel Transco system that should deliver steady earnings growth over the next several years. That pipeline attracted the attention of fellow pipeline company Energy Transfer Equity (NYSE: ETE), which attempted to acquire Williams to create a rival to Kinder Morgan. However, that deal fell apart, so investors can tag along as Williams continues expanding its key gas pipeline.
4. The complex option
Aside from shale-fueled growth, one of the biggest trends in the pipeline sector over the past few years has been a consolidation wave with pipeline companies rolling up their public entities into one company. We saw this in 2014 when Kinder Morgan brought all four of its publicly traded entities under one corporate banner, and Williams Companies has tried to do the same with its affiliated MLP. However, in many ways, Energy Transfer Equity is the outlier here because it controls several public entities:
That complexity aside, it has a very compelling asset base. Overall, it has ownership interests in Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE: ETP), Sunoco Logistics Partners (NYSE: SLX), Sunoco (NYSE: SUN), and Lake Charles LNG Export Co, which focus on natural gas pipelines, oil pipelines, fuel distribution, and natural gas exports, respectively. It is the total package, even if it is a bit more complex.
5. The Canadian oil pipeline leader
Like Energy Transfer, Enbridge Inc (NYSE:ENB) is a bit complex because it owns a stake in several other public entities. However, its core asset is its ownership of the world's longest, most sophisticated crude oil and liquids transportation system, which makes Enbridge a leader in transporting Canadian crude oil to the U.S.
That said, the company's diversification extends well beyond just oil pipelines; it also generates renewable energy and distributes natural gas. That diversification provides the company with several growth options, which is expected to fuel strong double-digit dividend growth through 2024.
With $641 million of capital investment needed in energy infrastructure over the next two decades, pipeline companies will have plenty of opportunities to invest. That is great news for investors because it suggests the sector will drive exceptional long-term growth, with the five pipeline stocks I have mentioned among the biggest beneficiaries of this growth.