The last couple of years have brought about loads of changes to the oil and gas space, and one of the companies playing a very interesting angle on those changes is Targa Resources Corp. (NYSE:TRGP). Today, it is one of the largest exporters of natural gas liquids, and it is looking to expand that business even further with the export of other oil- and gas-based products in the future. On its most recent conference call, Targa's management discussed some of the achievements in this export business and how it plans to grow its business through both the parent company and its limited partnership, Targa Resources Partners (UNKNOWN:NGLS.DL). Here are five quotes from management that highlight what it is thinking today.
1. Our Atlas acquisition really helps one corporate entity
Last year's acquisition of Atlas Pipeline Partners was a bit of a transformative buy as it gave the company a natural gas and natural gas liquids system that could deliver from the first mile of pipeline all the way to end markets with its export facilities. From an operational standpoint, it makes the company a better operator, but from a financial standpoint, it's pretty clear that the parent company is receiving the better part of the deal:
Our distributable cash flow for the quarter of $219 million resulted in distribution coverage of approximately 1.1x based on our second quarter declared distribution of $0.825 or $3.30 per common unit on an annualized basis. The partnership's second quarter distribution represents a 6% increase compared to the second quarter of 2014. At the [Targa Resource Corp] level, the second quarter dividend of $0.875 or $3.50 per common share annualized represents a 27% increase compared to the second quarter of 2014. -- CEO Joe Bob Perkins
Because of the structure of the deal to acquire Atlas, the parent entity of Targa is able to see a much larger share of dividend growth because it is entitled to both distributions from its ownership of units as well as incentive distribution rights that rise as per-unit distributions increase.
2. Can't predict which way the wind blows
Several analysts on the conference call had plenty of questions about guidance for the rest of the year as well as Targa's outlook for oil and gas production in the U.S. in the near future. However, Perkins wanted to remind analysts that management isn't made up of soothsayers and they are making best estimates possible to accommodate the changing times:
Predicting 2016 Field G&P volumes continues to be more art than science. Producers have demonstrated a willingness to increase their pace of drilling in almost all of our areas if crude prices improve to, for example, $60 per barrel. However, our ability to predict 2016 prices and, therefore, producer expectations for those prices, has not improved. In April, we said that if commodity prices didn't improve from April levels, average 2016 Field G&P volumes may be lower than 2015. Predicting 2016 Field G&P volumes continues to be difficult, but I want to say that we generally feel a bit more optimistic about volumes than we did at the first of the year. As we said, we project a 3% to 5% volume growth from Q4 2014 to average 2015, which likely puts Targa at a better 2016 beginning spot than we were expecting.
Without the invention of a time machine, it's hard to see Targa being able to do anything else other than talk to its customers and figure the best plan from there.
3. Oil-ish exports are a fast-growing business
It wasn't that long ago that the United States was a major importer of natural gas liquids such as propane. Oh, how times have changed. As this country becomes a major exporter of these products, Targa is positioning itself to get a big piece of the pie. Last quarter was a confirmation of this as Perkins explained the number of exports Targa is currently running:
In the second quarter, we exported approximately 5 million barrels per month of LPGs, which was 3% higher than the second quarter of 2014. Demand for LPG exports has been affected by global commodity prices in the tight shipping market, but we are seeing continued demand for short and long-term contracts. And we've continued to add contracts for the second half of 2015 and beyond. We expect our LPG export activity levels to be at or above Q2 volumes for the remainder of the year.
On top of its current exports of LPG, it is also in negotiations with some oil and gas producers to invest in facilities that would export condensate, which is the closest thing we have ever come to crude oil exports in a long time. If this comes to pass, it could be a big win for the company long term.
4. Margins are becoming more stable
Perhaps one critique of Targa's business model is that it is more exposed to commodity prices than many other pipeline and midstream companies because of the types of contracts it has. Historically, 60%-65% of gross operating margins came from fee-based contracts. However, it is looking to change that. According to CFO Matthew Meloy, the most recent quarter saw a larger swing toward fee-based services and contracts.
For the second quarter of 2015, our operating margin was 72% fee-based. For 2015, we now expect at least 70% of our operating margin to be fee-based.
It may not be the 80%-90% fee-based operating margins that many of its peers get in the pipeline and processing space, but it is certainly a step in the right direction toward generating more stable operational profits on a quarter-to-quarter basis.
5. We're still putting money into growth
Even though the company completed its acquisition of Atlas just a few months ago, it hasn't stopped the company from making major investments in its pipeline network. According to Meloy, the company is still on track to spend a sizable amount on organic growth projects:
We continue to estimate approximately $700 million to $900 million of growth capital expenditures in 2015, which includes 10 months of CapEx related to the TPL systems.
Perkins went on to explain that a lot of the investments the company plans to make will serve to interconnect its existing system and the Atlas pipeline system. By making them a more fluid network of pipelines, it will give its customers more options on where to move product.
What a Fool believes
There are still a lot of questions up in the air when it comes to what the changes in the global oil markets will mean to the American market over the next couple of years. So instead of trying to make predictive actions, Targa's management is looking at ways of taking as much of the unpredictability out of the equation by ensuring that more of its profits are secured by long-term, fee-based contracts and by investing in areas where there is a lot of potential for growth in both up and down oil markets. Based on where we are today, an investor can't ask a company's management to do much more.