If you're tuned in to the ongoing struggle between Williams Cos. (WMB - Get Report) and Energy Transfer Equity (ETE) and are looking to make a wager on which of the parties and their affiliated master limited partnership entities comes out smelling like a fresh bed of roses, your safest bet may be Williams Partners (WPZ) .
Analysts at energy-centric investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt noted Monday that WPZ remains the "preferred entity to own" during the ongoing strife between the parent companies.
WPZ shares have rebounded steadily since oil prices bottomed in February, gaining 81% in the past three months. WPZ opened was up 3.6% to $31.28 early Monday.
The remaining three entities also have seen market improvement as the commodity environment strengthens, and a number of factors have added to the surge for ETE and affiliate Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) , including that neither would be part of the recent bankruptcy filing of parent SunEdison (SUNE) . Both Williams and ETP have seen their respective stocks ascend more than 25% since February.
Meanwhile, Energy Transfer Equity shares have skyrocketed since the beginning of April, perhaps as the market begins to sense the increasing likelihood that it will not shovel out $37 billion to acquire Williams as a June 28 deadline approaches. ETE is up more than 93% in the past three months. It's trading at $12.66 on Monday.
Based on recent events, it appears Energy Transfer Equity may be looking to call off the couple's proposed marriage before the two make their vows, and the would-be-acquired Williams claims that its latest suit is a last-ditch effort to keep the companies' merger alive.
In a statement on Friday announcing the suit, Williams accused Energy Transfer Equity of engaging in "a pattern of delay and obstruction designed to allow ETE to avoid its contractual commitments."
But ETE fired back this weekend, stating that the Williams move was "an attempt to gain undue leverage."
Energy Transfer Equity's $37 billion purchase of the Tulsa-based pipeline operator, announced Sept. 28, has been mired in disputes, including lawsuits filed by both companies this year in the Delaware Court of Chancery.
Energy Transfer Equity CEO Kelcy Warren said in a Sunday statement that his company was "disappointed that Williams, rather than seriously engaging in discussions regarding the existing transaction, has chosen to file a third separate lawsuit in the last six weeks regarding our pending merger."
Nevertheless, while the deal's continued uncertainty may provide a distraction for investors, Tudor, Pickering, Holt said Monday that the latest news does nothing to change its belief "that this deal is too far gone to salvage."
Meanwhile, a cash flow shortfall at Energy Transfer Equity, according to the firm, means either ETE, ETP or both may need to cut distributions regardless of whether the deal goes through "with an even greater need to cut at ETE if the WMB deal closes."
There is also the tail risk that WMB will see same cuts as ETE if the deal makes it to finish line, Tudor analysts said, "leaving WPZ as entity closest to the best assets in a complex tangle."
-- Claire Poole and Laura Berman contributed to this report.