The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.By Adam Fischbaum NEW YORK ( StreetAuthority) -- Back in April, I
Anyway, I smell an opportunity in coal. Many investors seem to be avoiding it -- all the more reason to look at it. In the coal MLP space, Natural Resource Partners, LP ( NRP) is a compelling idea. The company owns and manages domestic coal reserves in Appalachia, the Illinois Basin and the Powder River Basin. Rather than owning and operating coal mines and producing its own coal, Natural Resource Partners leases its properties and reserves to mine operators in return for royalty payments. All leases are long-term, and the company has more than 2 billion tons of reserves. Units are trading at around $26.50, which is a 25% discount to their 52-week high and are yielding 8.3% (the term for an ownership stake in MLPs is "units," rather than "shares"). The attraction to Natural Resource Partners is the lack of exposure to the direct risks of mine operation (remember Massey Energy?). The income stream also appears more stable, thanks to its royalty collection model.
One stock I like is Niska Gas Storage Partners ( NKA). Niska is the largest independent owner and operator of natural-gas storage in North America. In total, the company has about 185.5 billion cubic feet of storage capacity. It's only using 55% of that. Needless to say, the stock's fundamentals aren't the greatest. But the story behind owning this stock is the valuation. Units trade around $9.37 and yield better than 14%. They're also priced at a 27% discount to their book value. Analysts estimate the market has placed a value on Niska's storage at just $7 million per billion cubic feet, which is less than half of the current market cost to build new storage. The biggest concern surrounding the company was that due to the soft operating environment, the dividend distribution was at risk. However, the company has taken necessary steps to protect the payout to common unit holders by repurchasing $62 million of debt this year. The company is also in the process of monetizing $200 million worth of its current natural-gas inventory. Thanks to these maneuvers, Credit Suisse analyst Yves Siegel projects Niska will have enough cash to cover the current distribution to common unit holders for the next year and a half. When the operating environment improves, the company will be well positioned due to its size. nit holders shouldn't expect distribution increases any time soon, but a 14% yield and a unit price below tangible value is a decent-enough incentive. Risks to consider: In researching this article, this five-year chart of the Alerian index concerned me.
While I'm not a wiggle reader by trade, this is self explanatory, thus confirming why the energy MLP space made me nervous in the first place. Focusing on names that have already been beaten down is a good way to play defense. Another risk consideration is uncertainty concerning U.S. tax policy. The potential change in the tax treatment of pass-through entities such as MLPs could negatively affect distributions available to unitholders. Widespread economic slowdown would also compound the pullback in commodity prices, which in turn would affect energy MLP prices.
Action to Take. After a mostly sideways year with lots of volatility in between, I'm still somewhat bearish on energy MLPs as a whole. That said, the volatility has created the opportunity for some selective nibbling in particularly beaten-down areas. Natural Resource Partners and Niska Gas Storage Partners are intriguing ideas: NRP for stability and predictability of its income, thanks to a limited-risk business model; and NKA for its higher yield and deep asset-value characteristics. >>To see these stocks in action, visit the 2 Energy MLPs With Attractive Yields portfolio on Stockpickr. P.S. -- We recently came across an unusual energy stock that has crushed gold, silver, oil and just about anything else you can think of over the past 10 years. What's amazing is that even after its 2,000% run-up it's STILL paying an 8.6% dividend yield right now. Click
here to get the name of this stock.) Disclosure: Neither A. Fischbaum nor StreetAuthority, LLC hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article. Links: The Tool to Capture the Highest Yields on Earth Forget Gold... Invest in This Metal Instead A Stock I Warned You About Looks Ready to Nosedive