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MarkWest Energy Partners LP (NYSE:MWE)

Q4 2009 Earnings Call Transcript

March 2, 2010 4:00 pm ET

Executives

Dan Campbell – VP, Finance and Treasurer

Frank Semple – Chairman, President and CEO

Randy Nickerson – SVP and Chief Commercial Officer

Nancy Buese – SVP and CFO

Analysts

Michael Blum – Wells Fargo Securities

John Edwards – Morgan Keegan

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

Operator

Welcome to the MarkWest Energy Partners fourth quarter earnings conference call. Your lines have been placed on listen-only until the question-and-answer session of today's conference. This call is being recorded. If you have any objections, please disconnect at this time.

I will now turn the call over to Dan Campbell. Thank you. Sir, you may begin.

Dan Campbell

Thank you, Marie and welcome to everyone that has joined us on the call today. Our comments will include forward-looking statements which involve risks and uncertainties that are not guarantees of future performance. Actual results could vary significantly from those expressed or implied in such statements and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties. Although we believe that the expectations expressed today are reasonable, we can give no assurance that the expectations will prove to be correct and we caution you that projected performance or distributions may not be achieved. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from their expectations are included in the periodic reports that we file with the SEC. We encourage you to carefully review and consider the cautionary statements and other disclosures made in those filings, specifically those under the heading risk factors.

And with that, I will turn the call over to Frank Semple, our Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer.

Frank Semple

Good afternoon and thanks to everyone for joining us for our year-end earnings call. As indicated in our earnings release, we completed 2009 with a very solid quarter driven by the continued strong performance of our core assets in the growing contributions from our Marcellus projects. We continue to expand our footprint in several of the most economic resource plays in the U.S. which should provide long-term dependable distribution growth for our unit holders.

During the call today, I will briefly review our financial performance for the fourth quarter and the full year and then provide operational and commercial updates on our key projects and operating areas. Distributable cash flow for the first fourth quarter was $63.2 million, adjusted EBITDA was $76.9 million and segment operating income was $110.5 million. For the full year, DCF was $192.4 million, adjusted EBITDA was $279.2 million and segment operating income was $314.2 million.

Our 2009 financial performance allowed us to maintain our $0.64 per unit distribution while still achieving a healthy coverage ratio of 1.5 times for the fourth quarter and 1.2 times for the full year. From a balance sheet perspective, we ended ‘09 in a strong financial position with over $410 million of available liquidity to fully fund our 2010 growth cap to program which will be in the range of approximately $300 to $350 million. We continue to focus on providing high-quality mid-stream services in some of the best resource plays in the U.S.

As you know, producer economics continue to drive the U.S. rig count to the resource plays, including the Marcellus, Woodford, Granite Wash and Haynesville. In these areas, we already have significant assets, experience, customer relationships and we feel we have a competitive advantage in those areas.

Over the past three years, approximately 70% of our $1.4 billion growth capital program has been invested mid-stream infrastructure to support the production growth of these resource plays. The Woodford Shale in southeastern Oklahoma continues to be a good example of the success we are enjoying with our producer customers in a resource play that three years ago was largely untapped.

Our volumes in southeastern Oklahoma increased in the fourth quarter by more than 20%, compared to the prior year quarter to an average of 456 million cubic feet a day. Newfield is the largest operator in the Woodford. And during the fourth quarter, they began producing a number of wells that they had previously shut-in due to low commodity prices. Newfield continues to have great success in the Woodford and has announced plans to operate six to eight rigs in 2010. And one of the more exciting details in their recent investor materials is the fact that there average well EURs increased from less than three Bcf in ‘06 to an estimated five to seven Bcf in 2010.

A number of our other producer customers including BP and XTO also appeared to be maintaining a strong presence in Woodford, with volumes that continue to grow. The fourth quarter saw a significant increase in the volumes transported through our Arkoma Connector pipeline, which is a 50/50 joint venture with ArcLight Capital. The Arkoma Connector takes gas south out of the Woodford down to Bennington, Oklahoma where it interconnects with a Midcontinent Express and Gulf Crossing Pipelines.

Average throughput volume in the fourth quarter was 318 million cubic feet per day, a 40% increase compared to the third quarter of ‘09. We invested approximately $115 million in southeast Oklahoma in ‘09 primarily for the construction of the Arkoma Alkoma Connector Pipeline as well as for incremental compression, well connects and gathering expansions in our Woodford operations.

As we look ahead, we anticipate our average daily Woodford volumes will continue to increase based on the current commodity price forecast and announced producer drilling programs. The Woodford is one of the premier resource plays and we believe it will increasingly contribute to our fee-based gathering, compression and transportation revenues for years to come.

In our western Oklahoma operating area, we continue to expand our system to support Newfield’s rapid growth of the Granite Wash in the Texas Panhandle, which is proving to be one of the most economic plays in the country. A number of producers including Newfield are consistently announcing new grant wash wells with very high initial production rates. While year-over-year volumes from western Oklahoma were generally flat, in 2009 our grant wash volumes have increased dramatically in the first quarter of 2010 and we are currently gathering over 230 million cubic feet a day in western Oklahoma.

We invested approximately $42 million in 2009 in western Oklahoma, primarily to expand our Granite Wash assets and we are excited about the results. Our decision to invest in the Granite Wash has proven to be very strategic and is an important part of our overall strategy to focus on the key resource plays.

In east Texas, we gather gas from the Cotton Valley, Travis Peak and Pettit formations, with a growing contribution from Haynesville Shale.

During 2009, producers carefully managed their capital programs and as was the case in western Oklahoma, we saw a reduction in tight sand drilling, which was partially offset by Haynesville production. We are currently gathering approximately 40 million cubic feet a day of Haynesville production even though a majority of the Haynesville acreage underlying our gathering system is already held by production.

There are more than 200,000 Haynesville acres dedicated to MarkWest. While overall volumes in east Texas may remain relatively flat in the short term, the Haynesville is an enormous resource play and we expect it to be a big part of our long-term growth.

In 2009, we invested approximately $13 million in east Texas. Because of our significant existing infrastructure, we can very efficiently expand our existing system to gather new Haynesville production. Our Appleby system is located in Nacogdoches County, south of our Carthage operations. And while it is a much smaller system, it has a very similar story. Appleby has significant Haynesville and Bossier shale potential that is held by production for future development by our producer customers.

However, like in east Texas, much of the current production comes from the tight sand drilling in the Travis Peak formation, which declined during 2009. We expect Appleby volumes to begin growing again as producers develop their Haynesville and Bossier acreage.

Our Oklahoma and east Texas operations make up our Southwest business segment. And operating income for this segment was approximately $62 million in the fourth quarter of 2009, an increase of nearly 90% compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. For the full year operating income was approximately $195 million which was relatively flat compared 2008.

Now the shale play that has been such a focus for MarkWest and much of the U.S. producing community is the Marcellus Shale. The fourth quarter saw a continuation of our significant expansion in the Marcellus. Since mid-2008, we have installed nearly 70 miles of high-pressure and low-pressure gathering lines in the prolific wet area in southwest Pennsylvania. We are currently the largest gatherer and processor in the rich gas area of the Marcellus. We commenced operations of our second cryogenic gas processing plant in the fourth quarter of 2009, bringing the total decut cryogenic processing capacity to 155 million cubic feet per day.

We began construction on a third plant with 120 million cubic feet per day of capacity and will be online later this year at our Majorsville processing complex. A fourth plant with processing capacity of 200 million cubic feet per day that will come online in the first half of 2011 at our Houston processing and fractionation complex. Upon completion of the third and fourth plants, our total cryogenic processing and capacity will be 475 million cubic feet a day.

In addition, by mid-2011, we will have online a 37,000 barrel per day fractionation facility which will be the largest new NGL fractionation and logistics complex in the Northeastern United States. The key to our success in the Marcellus is the relationships we have with our producer partners. Range Resources is our largest producer customer and as you are probably aware, they are having tremendous success.

We believe they have been a key leader in the development of Marcellus and they are doing a great job of moving the play forward. Range has publicly stated that their intent is to exit 2010 with approximately twice the gas production as they had at the end of 2009 and to double again by the end of 2011. We are in a lock-step with them as they bring on their new wells. And we are very focused on ensuring that our gathering and processing capacity stays in front of Range's and our other producer requirements.

We also continue to work closely with Columbia Gas Transmission to leverage our respective assets in the Marcellus. One component of our relationship with Colombia is our processing plant we are building at the Columbia Majorsville Pipeline hub. By the third quarter of 2010, we are scheduled to be processing Marcellus gas for Range, Chesapeake Statoil at the Majorsville complex. We are currently in discussions with these and other producers to further expand processing capacity of Majorsville.

Gas volumes in the Marcellus have increased significantly from an average of 19 million cubic feet a day in the fourth quarter of 2008, to an average of 80 million cubic feet per day in the fourth quarter of 2009. Today we're gathering more than 100 million cubic feet per day. Based on the current projections from all of our producer customers in the Marcellus, we expect that both our gathering volumes and processing volumes will more than double for 2010.

Since mid- 2008, we have scaled rapidly to meet our customer requirements in the Marcellus. And by the end of 2010, our Liberty joint venture with Midstream & Resources will have invested more than $700 million. On a net basis, MarkWest has invested $110 million through the end of 2009. And we anticipate investing an additional $230 million in 2010.

Midstream & Resources is a strategic long-term partner that provides significant capital resources and deep industry experience. The Marcellus continues to change the face of natural gas production in North America. And we intend to remain a leader in the development of this significant resource play.

Our Appalachian assets in West Virginia and Kentucky also continue to perform well. We have a long and successful history of processing, fractionating and NGL marketing in the Northeast and we continue that legacy. While we have seen a modest reduction in process volumes from conventional wells, our NGL production and sales volumes has increased year-over-year. The increase in NGL has resulted from MarkWest plant recovery and the fractionation upgrades, EQTs successful Huron shale development and our Marcellus NGL production that is being fractionated at our Siloam complex in Kentucky.

Processing margins were very strong in the fourth quarter and our Northeast business segment contributed $31 million to segment operating income in the fourth quarter and $65 million to segment operating income for the full year. Our capital investment in the Northeast segment was approximately $20 million in 2009, primarily to expand the Siloam fractionator and to upgrade our Cobb plant to cryogenic processing.

While we expect conditional gas volumes in the Northeast to moderate somewhat in the short-term, the Marcellus and Huron shale extend over essentially the entire area that is served by our four processing plants in Appalachia. We are in a great position to participate in the future growth of shale resources in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Our Javelina plant in Corpus Christi, Texas continues to be an important part of our portfolio. Javelina contributed $13 million to segment operating income in the fourth quarter of 2009 and contributed $42 million to segment operating income for the full year. We continue to enjoy strong relationships with our refinery customers and expect Javelina to continue to produce steady segment operating income well into the future.

Skipping now to a few financial metrics including our hedge program, our total debt at the year end was $1.2 billion comprised primarily of senior notes and three tranches, with the earliest tranche due in 2014. For the fourth quarter, our debt-to-total capital was 52%, our leverage ratio was 4.1 times and our interest coverage ratio was 3.2 times. These two ratios are calculated in accordance with our credit agreement and include an EBITDA adjustment for material projects.

As I mentioned in the beginning of my remarks, we ended the year with a strong liquidity position of approximately $410 million between cash on-hand and available capacity on our revolving credit facility. We have a consistent approach to manage our balance sheet and to opportunistically pre-fund our growth capital while maintaining a cushion around our bank covenants and distribution coverage objectives.

2009 was a significant year in terms of the transactions we completed to strengthen our liquidity position and to provide capital flexibility. We increased our revolving credit facility; we executed two strategic joint ventures, completed public equity and debt offerings and sold the steam methane reformer plant at our Javelina facility and our 50% interest in Starfish.

One of our long-term objectives is to continue to increase our fee-based operating margin and with the fee-based contracts in a rapidly growing Marcellus and Woodford operations. We expect to increase our fee-based operating margins from 40% in 2010, to roughly 50% by the end of 2012.

For the portion of our business that is not fee-based, we remain very committed to our rolling 36 month hedging program to manage the risk associated with commodity price exposure and to meet our distribution objectives. In 2010, approximately 70% of our commodity-based operating margin is hedged. We recently took advantage of improving commodity prices to convert a portion of our 2010 crude proxy hedges into direct product hedges.

We continue to closely monitor the conversion economics to identify additional opportunities for conversion. For 2011 and 2012, we are hedged approximately 40% and 20%, respectively. Looking ahead, we will continue to opportunistically execute hedge transactions to lock-in the strong margins and secure a large percentage of the commodity sensitive portion of our distributable cash flow for the next several years.

Before concluding, I want to briefly touch on our 2010 guidance. We have increased our DCF forecast to a range of $180 million to $220 million. The forecast assumes a reasonable range of price estimates for crude oil and natural gas as well as historical price correlation between crude oil and NGLs for the full year. The forecast also assumes our current hedge program and our current volume forecast.

As we have in the past, we included in the press release a sensitive – - sensitivity table that shows the impact on 2010 DCF of various crude and natural gas prices as well as NGL correlations. Our initial forecast of our 2010 capital program is a range of $300 million to $350 million. The capital program is driven primarily by high-quality, largely fee-based projects.

To summarize our call today, our core operations are located in some of the best resource plays in the U.S. And we are very well-positioned to continue capturing incremental volumes and cash flow. Providing quality midstream services for our customers is a top priority. And we are very proud of our ranking in the recent Energy Point Survey.

We were ranked in the top two in nearly every category in the survey, including a first-place ranking in Engineering and Operations, NGL related services, gas purchasing, and customer satisfaction in the Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas regions. We continue to focus on our key priorities of providing quality midstream services, maintaining a strong balance sheet and achieving our distribution objectives.

As we look forward, we have been winding the investment spring since late 2006 and will continue to do so throughout 2010. As the spring unwinds in 2011 and beyond, we believe we are in a great position to provide long-term distribution growth and returns for our unit holders.

So with that, Mary, I will open it up to questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you.

We will now begin the question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from Michael Blum. Please state your Company name.

Michael Blum – Wells Fargo Securities

Wells Fargo Securities. Good afternoon, everybody.

Frank Semple

Hi, Michael.

Michael Blum

Hi. A couple questions. The first is, can you talk about some of the assumptions around your guidance range? And then specifically, why you chose to increase the range slightly?

Frank Semple

Yes. Michael. The sensitivity table that we provide in our release really is the basis for our guidance. And the assumptions that are in that sensitivity table include our current volume forecast. And I touched on kind of all of our major areas and how we expect those volumes to grow in 2010.

The sensitivity table also assumes basically, the correlations between NGLs and crude oil at the mean, in other words, kind of at the average. And we use a three-year correlation to be able to calculate that mean. It also – obviously, it includes that the table also includes the relationship between crude and natural gas. And we kind of picked the middle of that sensitivity table as the basis for our guidance. So the reason it changed basically, between say the end of the third quarter and the fourth quarter was because we were seeing stronger growth, stronger commodity prices and better correlations.

Michael Blum – Wells Fargo Securities

Okay. Second question, just curious what your thoughts, you obviously have a strong position in the Marcellus. There are a lot of folks looking at potential long-term solutions for ethane in the Marcellus. I am wondering if you could just update us on your thoughts there.

Frank Semple

Well, there is a – as you know, Michael, there is a lot of ethane in that gas stream in the rich areas. Say 1 to 1.5 GPN or so of ethane. So ethane is not an issue right now. We are not extracting ethane, it is essentially being blended into the revenue stream and that works fine. And the producers have done range specifically have done a great job of getting ahead of that blending capacity by working with the downstream pipelines to be able to lock in blending capacity for the ethane that will continue to be a part of the stream.

Longer term, obviously, we are working hard to with all the producer customers to determine the best option for dealing with the ethane into the future. And there are several really good options. And again, blending is really a focus in the near-term in order to keep the gas flowing and also to meet the rapid ramp-up in the production volumes out in that Southwestern Pennsylvania area. But long-term we feel like there is some good producer solutions that might include transportation of that extracting and transporting that ethane to different market areas where ethane is valuable. So we will continue to work on those projects.

Michael Blum – Wells Fargo Securities

Great. Thank you.

Frank Semple

You bet.

Operator

And your next question comes from John Edwards. Please state your company name.

John Edwards – Morgan Keegan

It's Morgan Keegan. Good afternoon, everybody.

Frank Semple

Hi, John.

John Edwards – Morgan Keegan

Congratulations on a great quarter. On your CapEx spending, the 230 you mentioned for the joint venture. Is that included in the 350 or is that in addition to the 350?

Frank Semple

It's included in our 300 to 350 range.

John Edwards – Morgan Keegan

Okay.

Frank Semple

And again, John, the 230 is the MarkWest Energy Partners capital in the Marcellus. So it is net of the contributions by our partner Midstream and Resources.

John Edwards – Morgan Keegan

Okay. And then – okay. And then if the – are the partners remind us, so they are contributing additional capital this year as well?

Frank Semple

That's correct.

John Edwards – Morgan Keegan

And what would that number be?

Frank Semple

Okay. Well, yeah. The issue I've got the number here. But Nancy, you have a concern about sharing that?

Nancy Buese

No, I can't. Yeah, okay.

Frank Semple

Okay. Yeah. It's 190 and I think actually we kind of back into with the numbers I gave you.

John Edwards – Morgan Keegan

Okay.

Frank Semple

So Midstream and Resource would be 190 and ours would be the two thirds.

John Edwards – Morgan Keegan

Okay. And then I mean kind of following-up on Michael's question. I mean longer-term with the liquids being generated. There's been – I guess there has been some chatter about how to ultimately get that to market. Any thoughts you can share on that?

Frank Semple

Well, we don't talking about the NGL market in the Northeast. And ethane is just one of the products that ultimately will be extracted from that stream and through our processing and our fractionation capacity up there. The NGL market in the Northeast is very robust and that's why we are building the fractionation facilities. So that we can provide the maximum amount of value for those liquids for us and our producer customers, ethane just happens to be one of those products. And it's in the – it looks to us like that ethane is very economical to extract that ethane and get that ethane to market.

That will be more than likely be through a pipeline option. There is multiple markets that could be good locations for that ethane. Obviously, driven by the petrochemical demand, so we are evaluating all of those options, but I want to just reinforce the point I made earlier with Michael. And that is that ethane is not a problem in the Marcellus. I mean there is plenty of blending capacity. And thank goodness the producers have done such a good job of working with the pipelines to get waivers and get capacity, firm capacity on those downstream pipelines to get multiple years of blending capabilities for the ethane.

But also ultimately, there will be – we think a producer solution and we hope to participate in that solution for the ethane getting to one of the major markets, whether that is Conway or Sarnia or Bellevue or the Gulf Coast. Randy, do you want to add to that?

Randy Nickerson

Well, my only – the only thing I would add. I obviously agree with everything you said. I would add to that, it's not just the ethane we think about the other products. We have been there marketing propane for the last 25 years and the Northeast is kind of our home. And so talking about all the products, there is a lot of value having those products up there in the Northeast and there is still a lot of markets. And we're not going to – I mean the Marcellus, we will have to work very hard for a very, very long time to overrun the market, if you will in the Northeast.

We will be in another couple months, connected directly to the Teppco pipeline. The largest NGL pipeline supplied to the entire Northeast. Plus, we are able to capture a significant amount of the local market and have rail facility as well. Isobutane every, no, essentially every fractionator in the Northeast is short of isobutane and wants it all, all year long. We have significant markets for all of the natural gasoline. So I think the message really is all the products, particularly the C3 and heavier products.

Propane and heavier products, we have great markets for them right there in the Northeast. And we have lots of options for ethane. And we are fortunate in that acreage dedicated to our plans is where a very, very, very significant amount of the ethane comes to. So whenever you are developing projects, it's always extra nice blessing if you have all of the supply. It puts you in a great place when you are developing projects. So long winded answer to what you did in the short version, Frank. But that's what I would add.

Frank Semple

So stay tuned on the "ethane pipeline" option. It's obviously, a huge focus for us and our potential partners. And we see that developing fairly quickly.

John Edwards – Morgan Keegan

Okay. That background explanation, that's very helpful. Thank you very much.

Frank Semple

All right, John. Thanks.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) And our next question comes from Helen Ryoo. Your line is open. Please state your company name.

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

It's Barclays Capital. Good afternoon. Just a follow-up on the Liberty joint venture investment. Is it the case that the agreement requires MarkWest to spend 51% of the total CapEx for the partnership from up to 2011? Was that the agreement?

Randy Nickerson

Yeah. Maybe – no, the agreements were basically set forth, which has been pretty clear MarkWest when we originally went into project. We spent the first set of capital. The partnership came in M&R and invested the second set of capital. We are actually kind of in the third set now where we are sharing the amount of capital we spend until we equalize at around 51%.

And then going forward after that, we will invest kind of the 51, 49%. MarkWest does have the ability at some to increase this capital contribution somewhat in its ownership. But that's kind of the way it went, we invested the first amount, they invested the middle amount then we catch up and then we go to the 51, 49 up until a certain point. So that's probably the high level way to – Did I – that kind of everyone seems to be shaking their head. So that seems to be a clear explanation.

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

Okay.

Frank Semple

Okay. The bottom line is the capital contribution matches up with our ownership interest.

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

Yeah.

Frank Semple

That's the way to model it.

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

Right. Right. So I guess I was just trying to clarify whether you're spending has to be 51% or 50% of the total up to 2011 when you add up all of the annual investments each party did every year?

Frank Semple

Well, the capital contribution in 2010, we talked about we're spending 220, 230. It I think it was more like 190. So in the short-term, we are going to be doing a little bit of catch up to get us back up to the 51% after we achieved a 51% on a go-forward basis. After that it will be 51, 49. In the short period of 2010, it's not quite 51, 49. You can see we're investing just a little bit more to catch back up through the full year.

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

Okay. Okay. Got it. And then just moving over to the comment about your fee-based business contributing to 40%, was it 40% in 2010 and 50% in 2011?

Frank Semple

No. That's a look back number, 40% was for 2009.

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

Okay.

Frank Semple

40% of our margin is for fee-based services.

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

Okay.

Frank Semple

The balance being commodity based services.

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

Okay. 40% of your gross margin was fee-based and you expect that to be about 50% in 2010?

Frank Semple

Well, the 50% number I just want to make sure we are clear on this. Is that essentially today, 40% of our net operating margin is fee-based. The 50% number was based on our projections of where we are going to be by 2012…

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

Okay.

Frank Semple

Due to the increase and again, it takes a lot to move that needle. That essentially, you think about the Woodford and the Marcellus. They are essentially, all fee-based type services. And so that is where we are spending the majority of our capital. So what we wanted to show you is that there is a pretty clear line of sight for us increasing that fee-based percentage from 40 to 50% over the next several years.

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

And just from Marcellus, I guess you are putting up – putting down a lot of gathering infrastructure. You will have that fractionation coming on line. I can see all of that being fee-based business, but with your processing plant coming online. There is some commodity price exposure there. So I guess it should be a mixture from Marcellus, is that correct?

Randy Nickerson

Yes. It's a mixture coming from Marcellus. Although, with all the money we are spending on gathering and fractionation, it will exceed our investment in processing. So that the additional fee-based is what's part along with the Woodford, is what drives us from 40 up to close to 50 we think in the next couple of years.

Helen Ryoo – Barclays Capital

Okay. Thank you very much.

Randy Nickerson

You bet, Helen.

Operator

I will turn now turn the call over to Mr. Frank Semple for closing remarks. Thank you.

Frank Semple

Great, Marie. We appreciate your help today. And thanks to everyone for joining us on the conference call. We appreciate your interest and continued support of MarkWest. As always if you've got questions, give us a call. Thanks a lot and that concludes our conference call.

Operator

The call has concluded. You may disconnect at this time. Thank you.

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