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Charles Sizemore
Charles Sizemore
Articles (507)  | Author's Website |

Kinder Morgan Slashes Its Dividend; What’s Next for Stock?

The recent dividend cut is a good move and KMI is worth holding

December 14, 2015 | About:

Well, it happened. Kinder Morgan (KMI) bowed to the inevitable and slashed its dividend by 75% after hours on Tuesday.

Interestingly, Kinder Morgan stock popped on Wednesday, as investors seemed genuinely relieved that the uncertainty surrounding the stock is finally over.

Normally, I would run away screaming from a stock that had just slashed its dividend by 75% because that is a sure sign of financial distress. But what we have in Kinder Morgan is less a matter of a company in peril and more a case of a company restructuring how it is financed.

Kinder Morgan is not an MLP, but it essentially operates and finances itself like one. And in the standard MLP formula, the vast majority of free cash flow gets paid out as dividends (“distributions” in MLP parlance). Growth projects are funded by issuing new shares or new debt. This is because of the quirks in the tax code that force MLPs to distribute the vast majority of their earnings to shareholders, but a side effect is that it effectively gives Mr. Market a “vote” on each major new growth initiative.

It was a fine system that served the midstream MLP space well for the better part of two decades – right until it didn’t. With market sentiment toward all things related to energy souring – and with Kinder Morgan already highly leveraged – Mr. Market voted a resounding “No.”

I should be clear on something here. I’m not a believer in market efficiency, nor do I believe that the all-knowing, godlike market “predicted” a dividend cut at Kinder Morgan. It is far more accurate to say that markets create self-fulfilling prophecies. Because the market had already pushed the stock down, it all but forced Kinder Morgan to cut its dividend.

In the case of Kinder Morgan, we do not have a company in distress. We have a healthy company with an impressive cross-continental network of essential pipelines that is now in the process of reorganizing the way it is financed. The market has decided that it no longer likes the traditional MLP funding model so Kinder Morgan is transitioning into more of a typical corporate model in which new growth projects are financed with retained earnings.

Last week, in response to its share-implosion and the threat of credit downgrade, Kinder Morgan made the following statement (emphasis mine):

Kinder Morgan has now completed its 2016 budget process and expects to generate 2016 distributable cash flow of slightly over $5 billion, which would be sufficient to support dividend growth in the range discussed in the third quarter call. Alternatively, this cash flow can be used to fund some or all of Kinder Morgan’s equity needs for 2016.

Well, that’s what it did. It opted that it is in the best interests of its shareholders to use its cash flow to fund its growth initiatives as this will ultimately lower the cost of capital and make Kinder Morgan more profitable. And as a result, according to a late Tuesday release, Kinder Morgan will have no need to access the capital markets for “the foreseeable future.”

Founder and Chairman Richard Kinder is taking some heat from shareholders who were used to collecting Kinder Morgan’s fat and growing dividend. But Kinder shouldn’t be attacked here. He should be applauded. A chairman less concerned about the well-being of his shareholders might have simply issued new stock at today’s gutter prices, massively diluting the shareholders in the process. Given the situation, Kinder made the right move.

So what does this say about the prospects for Kinder Morgan stock?

Investors had gotten used to pricing this stock based on dividend yield alone. And by that metric, Kinder Morgan stock is looking a little skimpy. The new dividend works out to a yield of about 3% at current prices.

But looking beyond yield, there is a lot to like here. Kinder Morgan has wide “moats” around its businesses. Its natural gas pipelines are essential to the functioning of the American economy, come what may with energy prices. The company budgets an increase in “distributable cash flow,” a profit metric common to MLPs, of 8%. And it’s worth noting that it grew distributable cash flow modestly this year, despite the brutal selloff in energy prices.

At today’s prices, Kinder Morgan stock trades at book value and is about as unloved as a stock can be. I’m long the stock and expect it to do well from here.

And here’s one more point to consider. The dividend is not likely to stay low forever. Richard Kinder earns just $1 per year in salary. The rest of his compensation comes from the dividends generated off his massive hoard of Kinder Morgan stock. Kinder probably didn’t like taking a 75% haircut so you can bet that he’ll be looking to raise the dividend over time. It might be awhile before it’s over $2 per share again. But it will get there.

Disclosures: Long KMI

About the author:

Charles Sizemore
Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA is the chief investment officer of Sizemore Capital Management. Please contact our offices today for a portfolio consultation.

Mr. Sizemore has been a repeat guest on Fox Business News, quoted in Barron’s Magazine and the Wall Street Journal, and published in many respected financial websites, including MarketWatch, TheStreet.com, InvestorPlace, MSN Money, Seeking Alpha, Stocks, Futures and Options Magazine, and The Daily Reckoning.

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