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What: Shares of Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) surged more than 19% by 11:30 a.m. ET on Thursday. This was after the company's fourth-quarter results weren't quite as bad as investors feared.

So what: While Kinder Morgan's earnings did leave much to be desired, because cash flow fell and its outlook weakened, the company's underlying operations were still strong. For the quarter, it reported $1.233 billion in distributable cash flow, which was only slightly below what it reported in the same quarter of the prior year and just slightly below its budget. That's despite significant headwinds from oil and NGL prices as well as the fact that two coal terminal customers went bankrupt in the quarter, leading to a $45 million year-over-year impact to segment earnings in its terminals segment.

Furthermore, the company also announced that it will be tightening up its approach to growth and will only pursue its highest-return projects, instead of going after every opportunity it can get its hands on. While this results in a number of projects being removed from its backlog, which fell by $3.1 billion, investors applauded this new focus on returns over growth.

Now what: Unlike last quarter, Kinder Morgan didn't unveil any big surprises to spook investors. Instead, its cash flow was pretty solid and the company is doubling down on its efforts to focus on returns instead of pushing to hit ambitious growth targets. That has given investors something to finally cheer about. 

Matt DiLallo owns shares of Kinder Morgan and has the following options: short January 2018 $30 puts on Kinder Morgan and long January 2018 $30 calls on Kinder Morgan. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Kinder Morgan. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.