Energy: A disconnect between fundamentals and prices

Jeremy Schwartz, CFA, Executive Vice President, Global Head of Research

In a recent “Behind the Markets” podcast, we focused on how fast we are going to reopen the economy and reasons to be optimistic about treatments for a potential second wave of the coronavirus.

We also discussed disruption in the oil market and its impact on midstream energy companies with Brian Kessens, Senior Portfolio Manager at Tortoise Advisors, a firm that focuses on essential assets.

Kessens on the Oil Markets

The story I find particularly interesting is that pipeline fundamentals were supposed to be resilient when facing declines in oil prices, given their long-term futures contracts exposure and pricing that is not directly tied to spot prices. 

Kessens believes we will see a rebound in oil in the third quarter and that the wells will not all come back online as quickly as they were shut down. For companies to ramp up production again, he believes we need higher prices to incentivize production. 

He added that oil prices could very well go negative again in the next few weeks, referring to June futures contracts that expire later this month, as storage is still full. 

Midstream Fundamentals Stronger than Expected

However, the fundamental case for midstream companies is that they are more insulated from oil prices than market prices have been implying.

Kessens estimates cash flows should be down anywhere from 5% to 20%, whereas by the end of March the whole sector was down 50%. There were some technical selling pressures in March that exacerbated the declines due to leverage components in the close-end fund space.

There have been some record spreads between midstream dividend levels and the 10-Year U.S. Treasury as well.

The average dividend yield in a number of master limited partnerships (MLPs) was over 10%, and Kessens believes the yield is stable but could actually grow another 2%. This dividend growth is lower than historical but still with a 10% average dividend yield likely pricing in the expectation of cuts. If we do see growth, this will be one of more interesting segments of the market. 

This was a great discussion, and you can listen to it below:

Photo Credit: Cathy Whitfield via Flickr Creative Commons

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