A Closer Look at Energy Transfer Partners' Earnings

Energy Transfer Partners reported earnings on Wednesday and soundly beat analyst expectations on both earnings per unit and revenue. The partnership posted its best quarter in quite some time, so let's take a closer look.

The general rundown
Energy Transfer reported earnings of $0.62 per unit, and revenue of $10.98 billion. EBITDA came in at $948 million, more than double the $455 million it reported a year ago. For the full year, ETP recorded EBITDA of $2.74 billion, a $963 million increase. Let's drop down to the segment level to see what is driving this strong performance.

Q4: Digging deeper
On the upside, EBITDA for ETP's Interstate Transportation & Storage segment basically tripled year over year and drove much of the partnership's overall success in the fourth quarter. The $200 million increase, bringing adjusted earnings to $306 million, was driven by the consolidation of Southern Union's assets and increased revenues from the Tiger and Citrus systems.


NGL Transportation and services increased from $48 million in 2011 to $54 million in 2012. NGL volumes increased about 43% over last year, largely attributed to growing production in the Eagle Ford shale. This segment should continue to improve as volumes grow on the Lone Star West Texas Gateway NGL pipeline, which was only put into service at the tail end of 2012. Management expects volumes on that line to hit 150,000 bpd by June.

And of course, Energy Transfer's stake in Sunoco Logistics , as well as its possession of Sunoco's retail business, contributed income that did not exist in 2011. The two combined for a $328 million boost in the fourth quarter. Sunoco Logistics generated record results, and contributed $219 million to ETP. This story will also continue to improve, as the MLP has boosted its distribution to $2.18 annualized.

On the downside, Intrastate Transportation & Storage continues to be a thorn in the side of the partnership. EBITDA dropped from $153 million in 2011, to $131 million last quarter. We saw this coming, and indeed lower transported volumes stung ETP again in the fourth quarter. On a positive note, despite a decrease in transportation fees, margins on sales of natural gas and storage both increased.

Finally, ETP's midstream segment declined $12 million year over year, to land at $103 million for the fourth quarter. Management attributes the loss to increased expenses surrounding the consolidation of Southern Union's gathering and processing assets. The good news from this segment is that fee-based margins increased $31 million, and should continue to increase in the near future as new projects come online.

The distributions
As I noted earlier this week, we already knew there was no distribution increase coming. Distributable cash flow is extremely important for a potential increase, however, and Energy Transfer did not disappoint. After reporting DCF of $339.5 million in the third quarter, ETP recorded $488 million in the fourth. That is a $169 million increase over the fourth quarter of 2011, and gives investors two straight quarters of year-over-year DCF growth.

CFO Martin Salinas reiterated Energy Transfer's commitment to growing its distribution, and emphasized the importance of new projects and ETP's Eagle Ford footprint to drive DCF growth .

A look ahead
Salinas specifically mentioned two projects that will contribute to future cash flows: the Trunkline conversion, and the sale of the partnership's LDC assets.

I touched on the Trunkline conversion last September, but this is really the first official announcement regarding the switch from natural gas to crude oil on certain segments of the pipeline that runs from the Gulf Coast up to Patoka, Ill. The project is a 50/50 joint venture with Enbridge and is intended to carry crude south from the hub at Patoka to the hub at St. James, La. If everything goes according to plan, this will be the first crude pipeline to connect the Midwest to St. James. Management expects the line to be in service in 2015.

Energy Transfer's LDC assets are being acquired by the Laclede Group for $1 billion. The divestiture includes all the assets of Missouri Gas Energy and the New England Gas Company that ETP picked up in the Southern Union acquisition. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter of this year, and management expects to use the cash to deleverage.

Foolish takeaway
This was a great quarter for Energy Transfer Partners, and its performance will go a long way in encouraging investors that the partnership has the ability to right the ship and generate nice returns.

On the strength of this quarter, and the continuing progress made in regard to distributable cash flow, investors are taking another look at Energy Transfer Partners and its 23,500 miles of transformational pipelines. To see whether ETP and its industry-leading yield will be a fit for you, click on this detailed premium report, which will supply you with a thorough analysis of this midstream.

The article A Closer Look at Energy Transfer Partners' Earnings originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Aimee Duffy has no position in any stocks mentioned. If you have the energy, follow her onTwitter, where she goes by @TMFDuffy. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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