For the early part of this year, Kinder Morgan's (NYSE:KMI) stock held up even as commodity prices continued to tumble. Its stock price, however, started to turn south in the summer before accelerating its downward drive into the fall. By mid-December, the once rock-solid pipeline stock was down more than 60%:
Fueling this downdraft were some pretty bad headlines surrounding the company. Here's a look back at some of its worst headlines in 2015.
1. "Kinder Morgan Stock Slumps in After-Hours Trading on Earnings Miss" -- TheStreet.com
Kinder Morgan's troubles this year really started with the release of its second-quarter results in mid-July, which were a bit weaker than analysts were expecting. While the company's results were largely what was to be expected considering its guidance and market conditions, it did cause some investors to begin to worry that the company was being affected by the downturn more than previously thought.
2. "Kinder Morgan Points to Slower Dividend Growth, Disappoints Investors" -- Barron's
Investors who were concerned after Kinder Morgan's weak second-quarter results started to really freak out after its third-quarter results were released in October. While those results were also within its guidance range, the company did lower its dividend growth outlook. That really disappointed investors and fueled the stock's subsequent plunge.
3. The Barron's negative headline barrage
Barron's, which had taken a negative view on Kinder Morgan in the past, issued a trio of headlines in the fall that suggested very troubling times were ahead. It really spooked investors with an article titled "Kinder Morgan Could Fall Another 20% or More," which was published on Halloween. It followed that up with more recent headlines: "Kinder Morgan Bulls Need to Lower Expectations" and "Woes Mount for Kinder Morgan, Pipeline Operators." Both articles suggested that the company faced an uphill battle amid weakening commodity prices and a tough credit market, with that latter headline suggesting that Kinder Morgan's fair value was likely $13 per share, which was well below its then-current trading price.
4. "Moody's changes Kinder Morgan's outlook to negative" -- Moody's
On December 1, the credit rating agency put out a headline that stoked the fears of Kinder Morgan investors. It changed its outlook from stable to negative and warned that a credit rating downgrade could be on the horizon. Such a downgrade would push the company's debt below investment grade, which was a line the company has repeatedly said it would defend.
A number of factors caused the rating agency to change its outlook, including Kinder Morgan's already elevated debt levels and weaker-than-expected cash flow resulting from low commodity prices. However, it did point out one particular catalyst that changed its view on the company, which was its joint acquisition with Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (NYSE:BIP) of the rest of the ownership interest in the Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America (NGPL) that they didn't already own. While Kinder Morgan only paid $136 million to boost its ownership interest from 20% to 50%, the concern stems from the $1.5 billion of NGPL's debt that would now be Kinder Morgan's problem.
It was a move that increased its business risk profile because Kinder Morgan and Brookfield Infrastructure Partners would likely need to provide a cash injection to that business because of its high leverage. Kinder Morgan would have likely have to fund the injection with even more debt given its tight excess cash flow and inability to raise equity capital.
5. "Kinder Morgan Inc Capitulates, Slashes Dividend 75%" -- The Motley Fool
With its stock price continuing to sag, and its credit worries continuing to grow, the company was left with dwindling options, so it chose to take drastic action and chop its dividend. It needed cash to fund its project backlog, and the only source of cash that was available to it at a reasonable cost was the cash flow it was using to pay its dividend. While the move didn't sit well with investors, it did satisfy its rating agency, which changed its outlook back to stable.
It was a tough year for Kinder Morgan. What started as a small crack that was disclosed in its second-quarter report grew so big that the company had to fix it before it grew out of control. The hope is that using its dividend cash flow will be enough, but given how quickly things fell apart for the company, investors are still on the lookout to see if there are any more cracks in the company's foundation.