What: Shares of a gaggle of entities tied to Energy Transfer Equity LP (NYSE:ET) are down by big double-digits on Feb. 8, following an SEC filing that disclosed that the midstream conglomerate was changing CFOs. Thomas Long, currently CFO of Energy Transfer Partners LLC -- which is the general partner of Energy Transfer Partners LP (NYSE: ETP) -- will replace Jamie Welch as group CFO of LE GP LLC, which is essentially the controlling entity over all of the Energy Transfer entities, which includes the two above, as well as Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P. (NYSE: SXL) and Sunoco LP (NYSE:SUN).
So what: This announcement is also affecting the share price of Williams Companies Inc (NYSE:WMB) and Williams Partners LP (NYSE: WPZ). Energy Transfer and Williams are working through the planned acquisition of Williams by Energy Transfer, and their stocks tend to move up and down together to a large degree. After all, a CFO change at Energy Transfer means Williams would have a new CFO in charge once the merger is done.
But that's not the only thing moving shares lower today. Oil prices are down again, and the entire energy sector is dealing with another big sell-off day. Factor in word that Chesapeake Energy -- the second-largest natural gas producer in the US and a big customer of Williams Companies -- was working with a law firm known for its restructuring work, and that's just another thing that's rattling energy investors today.
Now what: This could turn out to be a good time to invest in these beaten-down midstream companies when we look back in a year or two, but there remains a lot of uncertainty. The Energy Transfer and Williams entities all carry significant amounts of debt, and the viability of the deal for Energy Transfer to acquire Williams has been in doubt for some time.
Replacing a CFO in the middle of this process is clearly not reassuring the market, and the way the company informed the market has also caused concern. Energy Transfer did not issue a press release which is typical when a key executive like a CFO is replaced, instead only filing with the SEC on Friday.
The company filed a second 8-K today, following the major drop in its stock price after news got out that it was making a change in the executive suite, saying the following:
As a follow up to the announcement on February 5, 2016 regarding the replacement of Jamie Welch as the Chief Financial Officer of Energy Transfer Equity, L.P. (the "Partnership") with Thomas E. Long, currently the Chief Financial Officer of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., the Partnership has initiated discussions with Mr. Welch toward a potential consulting arrangement related primarily to the continued development of the Partnership's LNG export project as well as other financing matters although, at this time, no agreements have been reached. In addition, in response to inquiries from various parties, the Partnership affirms that the replacement of Mr. Welch as Chief Financial Officer of the Partnership was not based on any disagreement with respect to any accounting or financial matter involving the Partnership or any of its affiliates.
Frankly, there may not be anything bad going on, but it's certainly not very reassuring, especially in the midst of the Williams acquisition, and only adds more uncertainty at a time when the market is gun shy as it is. Frankly, it's probably best to remain on the sidelines and let the merger play out before investing in any of these entities. There are too many moving parts right now to really evaluate and value the opportunity until things stabilize and we know what the business will look like going forward.