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Investing Topics: Investment Strategy

Paradigm Shift in MLP Land

Big changes are afoot in the midstream segment. Many master limited partnerships appear to have taken Enterprise Products Partners LP’s lead and shifted their focus to building distribution coverage and reducing equity. We explore which names will be able to make this transition with relative ease and which names face more of a slog to put themselves on a path to sustainability.

Planning for a Pullback

An environment where oil prices remain lower for longer favors US independent exploration and production companies that own high-quality assets in the lowest-cost shale plays.

The best upstream operators continue to reduce their per barrel production costs through efficiency gains and enhanced drilling and completion techniques that boost per-well output. Some of the strongest names can generate a decent return on capital with oil prices in the mid-$30s per barrel.

Despite significant volatility, crude-oil prices have trended lower since the beginning of June. Our near-term outlook calls for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) to tumble into the $30s per barrel over the next one to three months, a period of seasonally weak demand.

This weakness could create another opportunity to buy our favorite exploration and production names.

 

The Upstream Cash Flow Crunch

The severe downdraft in the prices of crude oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids has pressured producers’ cash flow and outpaced reductions to service costs and capital expenditures. Accordingly, the cash flow shortfalls that predominated in the salad years have continued in the lean years, setting the stage for further spending cuts in 2016.

MLP Strategy Update

The recent relief rally hasn’t changed our outlook for the MLP space and investment strategy. Despite the severity of the selloff and rapidity of the recovery, even our favorite publicly traded partnerships could find themselves engulfed in another maelstrom of indiscriminate selling. Not only will squeezing out the excesses of the past take time, but a number of headline risks will continue to haunt the space over at least the next 12 months.

 

Getting Ready for a Real Buying Opportunity

Over the past two years, oil and gas producers have accounted for the bulk of the energy sector’s bankruptcies, laid low by excessive leverage, the collapse in commodity prices and inferior assets. Exploration and production companies haven’t emerged from the woods yet—but they’re not all goners. In fact, the buying opportunity that investors have awaited appears to be around the corner.

In a scenario where oil prices remain lower for longer, investors should focus on upstream operators with strong balance sheets, low production costs, a history of solid execution and franchise assets that can deliver output growth in a challenging environment. Names that can expand their output and win market share should outperform, while their cash-strapped peers or those with inferior assets will struggle.

The universe of exploration and production companies that meet our criteria is relatively small; don’t misconstrue this call as open season to buy upstream names indiscriminately. Not every oil and gas producer has the potential to outperform, let alone survive.

In this issue, we highlight a handful of our favorite names to scoop up during the coming buying opportunity. To help with timing, we’ve included dream buy prices for these stocks that reflect trough valuations in previous downturns and our outlook for commodity prices.

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  • Live Chat with

    Elliott and Roger on Oct. 30, 2017

  • Portfolios & Ratings

    • Model Portfolios

      Balanced portfolios of energy stocks for aggressive and conservative investors.

    • Coverage Universe

      Our take on more than 50 energy-related equities, from upstream to downstream and everything in between.

    • MLP Ratings

      Our assessment of every energy-related master limited partnership.

    • International Coverage Universe

      Roger Conrad’s coverage of more than 70 dividend-paying energy names.

    Experts

    • Roger S. Conrad

      Founder and Chief Analyst: Capitalist Times and Energy & Income Advisor

    • Elliott H. Gue

      Founder and Chief Analyst: Capitalist Times and Energy & Income Advisor

    • Peter Staas

      Managing Editor: Capitalist Times and Energy & Income Advisor