NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There's been little to like in the energy space since oil has found this uneasy equilibrium at $60 a barrel. But one subsector of energy continues to do well in every oil environment -- the pipelines.
It's time to develop a new respect in the pipeline stocks and to make them a part of everyone's energy portfolio. Pipeline stocks are not just for your grandfather anymore.
The pipeline companies were known to be "retirement" stocks for people investing for a fixed return. These transport companies of oil and natural gas provide the "roadways" for product from energy producers to move from place to place for a fee and those fees are normally returned to the investor in the form of dividends or distributions.
This has made many of the pipeline companies looked at as mere fixed-income investments like utilities, and the folks buying them have been typically been older, more fixed-income-oriented investors.
But as we've watched oil move in strong waves in price both up and down, affecting the stock prices of the oil producers and the oil services companies, we've also noticed the very best energy pipeline companies have not only retained their value, but managed to increase their distributions and increase their share prices.
Two of these companies missed on a merger proposal early this week when Energy Transfer Equity (ETE) attempted to buy Williams Cos. (WMB) - Get Report. Both of these pipeline companies have done exceedingly well in the past five years and are poised to continue to increase their buildouts of infrastructure. The big premium that ETE was willing to pay indicates how much remaining future value in left unlocked in some of these pipeline companies because Williams refused a gigantic 32% premium.
Whether this merger ultimately succeeds or not is not really the issue, however. The point of this deal is how much unrealized value still remains in many of these pipeline companies.
Plains remains a value as its stock price has retreated, recently paying over 6% in distributions. Kinder Morgan is a value because Richard Kinder remains the smartest operator of pipelines ever.
In a world of few inspiring current investments in the oil patch, the pipelines are still easy to recommend to everyone -- not just your grandfather.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held a position in WMB.