Is It Time to Buy MLPs?

February 12, 2016

MLPs recorded their second worst year of performance in 2015 (-32.6%), reaching levels not seen since the financial crisis when the Alerian MLP Index fell 36.8% in 2008. Performance in 2015 can be attributed to the following factors:

  • Increased supply from U.S. shale producers and OPEC members (especially Saudi Arabia) and concerns about weak demand from China led to a sharp drop in oil prices.
  • As energy prices dropped concerns emerged about U.S. oil and natural gas production volumes and the potential impact on MLPs.
  • As MLP prices began to fall, closed-end MLP funds — which use leverage — were forced to sell into a declining market to maintain their leverage ratios.
  • Investors began to worry that lower equity prices and higher costs of debt would force MLPs to cut their distributions in order to conserve cash for future growth funding.

As a result, many wonder if now is an attractive time to purchase MLPs, given the significant price decline in 2015. This week’s chart compares one of the most commonly used metrics to value MLPs, the enterprise value to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (“EV/EBITDA”) relative to the S&P 500. A ratio above (below) the average represents a premium (discount) on MLPs (based on the Alerian MLP Index) compared to the S&P 500. In light of the recent sell-off in the MLP sector, MLPs are now attractively priced with EV/EBITDA multiples trading more than one standard deviation below their long-term average (since June 2006). However, given the uncertainty around future Fed rate hikes combined with persistently low oil prices and negative sentiment across the energy sector, MLPs may experience further volatility in the short term before the market returns to equilibrium. Over the longer term, we expect midstream MLPs to benefit as commodity prices stabilize and volume growth resumes.

The opinions expressed herein are those of Marquette Associates, Inc. (“Marquette”), and are subject to change without notice. This material is not financial advice or an offer to purchase or sell any product. Marquette reserves the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs.

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