Upstream MLPs: Yet Another Way to Play the Natural Gas Boom

by Mike Kapsch

I hope you’ve been doing more than just watching America’s shale natural gas and oil revolution.

That’s because not only is it changing our energy future, it’s creating a slew of opportunities for investors to make money.

For example, in January, I reported on a number of companies set to gain from the natural gas boom in the chemical industry.

Believe it or not, 70% to 90% of natural gas is methane. And companies that produce methanol, like Methanex (Nasdaq: MEOH), can now do so at much lower prices today thanks to cheap natural gas prices.

Methanex is up 24% so far this year. Other chemical companies I mentioned have gone up over 30%, even 40%.

In June, I talked about another company that has a virtual monopoly on a certain type of sand that’s used for nearly 75% of all fracking jobs in America.

The company is U.S. Silica Holdings (NYSE: SLCA). Since writing about it in Investment U, it has ticked up 50%.

But I’m not telling you this just to toot my own horn.

I’m telling you because if you’re not taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you should be…

In fact, today there’s another way to play this energy revolution altogether.

And it’s an opportunity that should hand out safe and steady gains for years to come, especially as commodity prices head higher.

I’m talking about taking advantage of upstream master limited partnerships (MLPs).

From the Wellhead to Your Savings Account

When it comes to commodities such as oil and gas, there are three different ways to categorize MLPs on the supply chain.

  1. Upstream
  2. Midstream
  3. Downstream

Upstream MLPs generally build, operate and maintain wells for both oil and natural gas resources.

Meanwhile, midstream MLPs are involved in a number of energy-related activities such as transporting, processing, treating, and storing oil and natural gas.

Downstream MLP activities include refining and marketing natural gas and oil.

The majority of MLPs are in the midstream portion of the oil and gas business.

But here’s why upstream players could be the real winner of America’s natural gas revolution in the coming years.

There are about one million actively producing oil and natural gas wells currently in America. There are literally hundreds of thousands more inactive wells scattered around the country, as well.

For big oil and gas producers, it’s not economical to hold onto their mature wells for too long.

So oftentimes, they’ll sell off their mature assets to upstream MLPs at a huge discount in order to focus their efforts on newer oil and gas deposits.

Upstream MLPs, who specialize in oil and gas production at the wellhead, use these assets to boost their own portfolios.

And with so many wells to choose from today, these assets present a unique opportunity for upstream MLPs and investors.

Rigzone.com even reports, “The wave of exploration and shedding of mature assets by producers could results in a 10-fold increase in MLP appropriate assets.”

So how could you take advantage of upstream MLPs today?

Look no further than LINN Energy (Nasdaq: LINE).

An MLP for the Long Haul

In just nine years, LINN Energy has gone from owning a handful of natural gas wells to becoming a top 10 independent exploration and production energy company.

It currently operates nearly 8,000 productive oil and gas wells.

As The American Oil and Gas Reporter recently stated, “LINN Energy has a simple strategy: Acquire and optimize producing assets with predictable returns and long reserve lives.”

This strategy is nothing new. It may even seem boring.

But it has enabled LINN to grow from a $261-million market cap when it IPO’d in 2006 to over $8 billion today.

Not so boring now though, huh?

The company continues to grow vigorously, as well.

In 2011, it signed agreements worth $637 million in acquisitions. This year, two deals with BP alone have totaled over $2 billion.

And when it comes to oil, the amazing thing about LINN is that while oil prices are hovering near triple-digit figures, the company reports it’s able to acquire reserves at an average cost of $19.15 for each barrel in the ground, which it can turn around and sell for whatever the price of oil is today.

I don’t know about you but I don’t think oil prices are set to hit $20 a barrel maybe ever again.

But even if oil prices do drop significantly, LINN has a policy about hedging its acquisitions against downside swings in commodities immediately after it makes a major acquisition.

This simply locks in the bargain deals LINN is able to negotiate with the big players, and it keeps unitholders happy.

Since 2009, the company has gained 160% with plenty of room to run. And it also has a juicy dividend yield of 7.1%.

In comparison, the average dividend yield from the S&P 500 is about 2%.

As the natural gas boom continues to reshape our lives and more and more wells are sold off by big oil and gas companies, LINN Energy is in a prime position to continue growing its assets and rewarding its unitholders.

And if you’re looking for more upstream MLP opportunities, Rigzone says a recent report by MLV & Co., a boutique investment bank out of New York, has put buy ratings on four other upstream MLPs including Breitburn Energy Partners (Nasdaq: BBEP), Legacy Reserves (Nasdaq: LGCY), Mid-Con Energy Partners (Nasdaq: MCEP) and Vanguard Natural Resources (NYSE: VNR).

Just make sure to do your due diligence and always remember to consult with your tax advisor before investing in MLPs.

Good Investing,

Mike Kapsch

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