While 2015 was a really tough year for Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI) after a flurry of negative headlines weighed on the stock, not every headline brought bad news. Here's a look back at three of its best headlines from last year.
1. "Pipeline Tycoon Kinder Expands Into Bakken With $3 Billion Deal" -- Bloomberg
Kinder Morgan owns a vast pipeline network across North America. However, despite the fact it controls more than 80,000 miles of pipelines, until earlier last year none of its pipelines served the Bakken shale, which is one of the country's premier shale plays. That changed last January after the company paid $3 billion to buy Hiland Partners from Continental Resources CEO Harrold Hamm and certain Hamm family Trusts.
This was an important acquisition for the company beyond just giving it a foothold in the Bakken. It was immediately accretive to cash available to pay dividends in 2015 and 2016 with that accretion growing to $0.06-$0.07 per share by 2017 after it completes the expansion of the Double H pipeline. Further, these assets are backed by fee-based contracts including having Continental Resources as an anchor tenant. Finally, the system provides the company with a platform for expansion in the region both via bolt-on acquisitions as well as through organically developed projects.
2. "Kinder Morgan to Proceed With Northeast Energy Direct Project" -- Pipeline & Gas Journal
In addition to driving growth via acquisitions, the other major growth driver for Kinder Morgan is its project backlog. That backlog ballooned after the company finally moved a key portion of the Northeast Energy Direct project from concept to the backlog following board approval of the market path of the project, which will supply gas to utilities and electricity generation customers in New England. The project is expected to be in service by November of 2018 and could help save New Englanders billions of dollars each winter because the region's lack of existing pipeline capacity has led to higher natural gas prices than the rest of the country during peak usage.
For Kinder Morgan this expansion is important for a few reasons. First, the economics are compelling and needle moving given the $3.3 billion price tag. Second, this is a demand-driven project so it benefits from cheap natural gas prices, which could fuel future capacity expansions. Finally, with the market path approved, it opens the door for the supply path to also be approved, which would add another big project to the company's backlog.
3. "Moody's Changes Kinder Morgan's Outlook to Stable" -- Moody's
One of Kinder Morgan's biggest problems last year was that it had a number of economically compelling expansion opportunities, but its access to the capital it needed to fund these projects had tightened. This was partially due to its already large debt load, which was starting to weigh on its stock price. These concerns came to a head when its credit rating agency changed its outlook on the company from stable to negative and warned that a credit rating downgrade could follow, with such a downgrade sending Kinder Morgan's debt into junk territory.
With its options limited, the company decided to slash its dividend 75% in order to maintain its investment grade credit rating because it would use that cash to fund its backlog and reduce its debt. It's a move that paid an immediate dividend because its rating agency reversed its earlier decision and returned the company's outlook back to stable. This helped calm market fears that the company's debt situation would spiral any further out of control.
One thing that investors have lost sight of amid the downturn in commodity prices is the fact that Kinder Morgan's cash flow continues to grow because it buys or builds accretive projects such as the Hiland assets and the market path of the Northeast Energy Direct project. While funding this growth externally hit a huge roadblock last year, Kinder Morgan has more than enough internal cash flow to fund its growth. By making that switch the company has calmed a lot of fears, which should eventually fuel a higher stock price.