Phillips 66 (PSX) and QEP Resources Inc (QEP): Are There More Midstream Buyouts to Come?

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Many times we think the most important information to glean from quarterly conference calls relates to very specific details about a company’s operations. However, in the topsy-turvy world of energy, conference calls increasingly provide details on business models and macroeconomic trends that make these group chats a can’t-miss quarterly tradition.

The most recent call at Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. (NYSE:PAA) is a perfect example, and today we’ll look at what CEO Greg Armstrong had to say about midstream mergers and acquisitions, and the overall consolidation of the industry.

Year in review
February isn’t the most obvious choice for a review of the year’s activities, but here we are. The midstream industry has already hit us with announcements of potential master limited partnership spinoffs, and the news of at least one big merger.

Phillips 66 (PSX)In January, Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) reiterated its intent to spin off its midstream assets into an MLP. The company expects to file paperwork with the SEC next quarter and IPO sometime during the second half of this year.

Just last week, fellow Fool Matt DiLallo filled investors in on QEP Resources Inc (NYSE:QEP)‘s planned midstream spinoff, which is slated for an IPO in the second quarter of this year. QEP is an exploration and production company that is looking to unlock value by spinning off certain assets. It would be a regional play, focused on the Bakken at first, much like Marathon Petroleum Corp (NYSE:MPC)‘s MLP spinoff, MPLX LP (NYSE:MPLX), that happened at the end of last year.

And then there’s Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (NYSE:KMP), which is plunking down $5 billion to buy Copano Energy, L.L.C. (NASDAQ:CPNO) outright, in a unit-for-unit deal that is expected to close in the third quarter of this year.

That’s a fair amount of news, given that we’re only six weeks into the year. But what can we expect going forward? And how easy is it, exactly, to merge MLPs, as Kinder Morgan now seems to do on an annual basis?

One CEO’s take
All the industry activity prompted an analyst to ask Armstrong to share his thoughts on the pace of industry consolidation. Here’s what the Plains CEO had to say during the fourth-quarter call:

I think it’s probably going to be pretty dynamic. That word gets used a lot around here, but I think … we’re up to 90-plus MLPs today. My understanding is that there [are] probably 10 to 15 more in the hopper. It would surprise me if the answer is that number just gradually goes up and doesn’t contract at all with respect to some consolidation. … And there’s fundamental industrial logic as to why some of that consolidation should happen. It’s easier to do when the markets aren’t as robust as they are right now, because, quite candidly, people, you know capital is abundant and it’s relatively cheap. And people would rather do their own MLP than they would consolidate.

It really is a great time to be a midstream MLP. Domestic energy production is at levels not seen in decades, interest rates are non-existent, and MLPs are routinely trouncing the returns of the major indices, increasing investor participation.

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