Williams Partners L.P. (NYSE:WPZ)
Credit Suisse Global Energy Summit Conference Call
February 11, 2014 13:40 ET
Alan Armstrong - President and Chief Executive Officer
Abhi Rajendran - Credit Suisse
Abhi Rajendran - Credit Suisse
Alright, I think we will go ahead and get started. So for our next presentation, we have Williams here. As many of you may know, Williams is one of the largest companies in the midstream space. They span two tickers, Williams Companies or WMB, which is a C-corp as well as Williams Partners or WPZ, which is an MLP. To tell you about all of the opportunities that Williams has ahead, it’s our pleasure to have President and CEO, Alan Armstrong. Alan has been with Williams since 1986, I believe, serving in various roles and has been President and CEO since early 2011. Also with us from the company are CFO, Don Chappel and Rick Rodekohr and Dave Darcey as well. Alan, why don’t I hand it off to you?
Alan Armstrong - President and Chief Executive Officer
Thank you, Abhi. Thanks for being here this morning. A lot of great things going on. It’s kind of little bit of an odd time in that we have got earnings coming out next week and so a lot of the questions that everybody wants answered right now will be coming out next week, but I did want to really share a lot of what’s going on in the broader fundamentals of our business today and so I will move right ahead here into our strategy. Most of you all that follow the company have seen this strategy many times, but I will tell you that what we have got going on right now in the industry is exactly what we were hoping for in terms of the tailwinds that are created.
So we are starting to see the connection of LPGs here in the U.S. up against the international market, which is very attractive. We are seeing gas demand starting to pull through and we are starting to see price signals even starting now into the forward markets a little bit, on natural gas in a way that is going to encourage the continued development of the supply. And frankly, one of the risk to our strategies was that we would see gas prices so low for so long that we would be in a position, where it would be hard to recover and meet that demand and we would see prices swing way back up on a sustained basis and then start to kill the long-term demand growth and the overall market growth for the U.S.
But I think what we have seen here recently is the strong signal to the markets and to the supply side that better days are ahead and starting to see that come through in the long-term market, which again is exactly kind of what we needed for our strategy, because for us the perfect thing is the price that is a nice attractive price for producers that keeps them drilling and a continued low enough price that keeps the markets and the demand expanding. And so frankly, we are getting very near to kind of that perfect place from a Williams perspective.
Our strategy, I will just sum it up here very quickly, is very focused around natural gas and the ARB up against world crude oil prices in larger markets. So that isn’t to say that we are wanting to go out and hold that price spread, because that is exactly what we are not wanting to do, but we do think that, that big spread drives a lot of investment in infrastructure that can help close that out. And you are seeing – you are starting to see some pretty important signs of that very recently as you saw the LPG market starting to gain parity and starting to come up against world markets.
Now you are going to see butane coming to that supply. It doesn’t take a lot of infrastructure in those smaller markets. It doesn’t take a lot of infrastructure. It takes a tremendous amount of infrastructure. When you start talking petrochemical markets and the natural gas markets, it takes tremendous amount of infrastructure and that’s where Williams is positioning itself in a very big way up against those markets. So ultimately, we want to see that arbitrage develop demand and develop infrastructure. And what we want to be left holding the bag on is the volume growth that we are going to see from a very low-cost natural gas today that’s going to be continuing, we will continue to see demand on.
Moving to the kind of the picture of the Williams infrastructure today, first of all, I just point out here that we really are very well-positioned across very many basins. I have a little tighter picture of that here in a moment. About $26 billion now in our pipeline of opportunities through 2018 and most of that is focused exactly on the strategy I just mentioned in terms of helping build the infrastructure out that will help ARB out all about gas against higher value products or higher value hydrocarbons.
And then as well I would point out that we really are very focused with this infrastructure that we have of connecting very enduring, low-cost supplies to growing and high demand – and high growth demand markets and we really are very well positioned to serve both of those. So it’s developing a tremendous amount of backlog. Frankly, we are in a pretty heavy allocation mode. Even with that $26 billion, we are constantly allocating projects out of our mix today because we have just got so many opportunities out in front of us because our strategy over time has really positioned us very well for a tremendous amount of growth.
The picture on the supply growth side, a couple of points to make here, first of all we are pretty – we are exposed as on the Williams direct assets certainly to the Northeast, but the second large growth area here that you see here in the next three or four years is really coming out of the Rockies. And we think and by that – if you get in towards the end of this decade the Rockies is going to have to play an important part in meeting the demand picture. And we are excited to be out there. Even now, I will tell you we are seeing signs of an increase in supply and a couple of things are going on out there.
One, producers know they can go quickly hit the bid, because the infrastructure is in place, the markets are in place, the contracts are in place for them to go drill on existing infrastructure and get back the cash margin very quickly. Secondly, you are starting to see parties like Linn Energy and folks like that that are kind of what we kind of call the cleanup guys that are coming into these basins with low-cost operating structures. And they are able to come into these big, nice big resources like Pinedale and the Jonah, the Wamsutter areas. And they are licking their chops over coming in and taking those projects on from the majors that have held those projects and they can make a nice cash margin on them in a very reliable way. And so we are stating to see the smaller independents come in and particularly the MLP space start to come in and take some of the acreage away from and/or through acquisition from lot of the majors. And we are excited to see that happening out there as well.
And of course in the Northeast tremendous growth, people talk about the Marcellus and the Utica a lot, but it is amazing how much of the growth here in the last year or so it’s covered. And I will speak to what we have actually seen in our growth out there in just a moment. This is the demand side on the gas side and some interesting things to point out here. First of all that 12% that’s really from’09, it should be through the end of ’13 what is a 2.3% CAGR. And so even here in the early innings of this gas renaissance we are seeing pretty strong growth on the demand side.
I will tell you that a lot of the demand is yet to come because it takes a lot of infrastructure to build out the demand, whether it’s power generation assets, whether it’s steel plants, whether it’s fertilizer plant and the pipeline infrastructure that takes to connect all that, takes a lot of time. So even though we have only got this looks like a really, really heavy growth rate here, but really if you think about what’s actually going on in the pool that’s out there, we think this is a pretty conservative approach especially here for the next couple of years, I would tell you that we are pretty bullish on the growth.
We recently saw on Transco we saw a peak day of about 11.8 Bcf a day – peak day on Transco and we should have only seen in, if you just did that in degree days we should – they should have been about a 20% increase over our normal just if you look at heating degree days. We actually saw a 30% increase on that day relevant to the norm. And part of the reason for that is, is that gas has found its way into lot of crooks and crannies 0432 and additional industrial loads. And so fuel is starting to take a bigger share in fuel oil. And so we are really starting to see the signs that that demand is creeping up even beyond just what a cold winter has brought on this year.
This is a picture of the NGL supply, in this – I would tell you this one is really hard to get your arms around seeing that kind of growth in the NGL supply space. Part of this has just been driven by the ridiculously high-margin between very low gas prices and relatively high NGL margins. And so once again, I would tell you this is a great sign of capitalism here in the U.S. If there is a margin to be taken, we will go out and we will put the resources in place to take it, but it takes time, right, it takes not only drilling rigs to drive it, it takes processing plants and ultimately to get this done it’s going to take a lot of petchem infrastructure as well. And so the ethane supplies, if you look at this ethane supplies in most of these big gas resources today, it’s a little over 50% of the available NGLs. In other words, the ethane content in the gas stream is a little over 50%.
If you look at this, we are not anywhere near that being 50%. The reason is it takes a higher degree of infrastructure to go after that ethane. So it takes more pipelines. It takes more cryogenic facilities. And so it takes a while when a basin starts to develop for all of the infrastructure to get in place. The Marcellus is no different. You see very little of the NGL production today in the Marcellus or the Utica is in ethane. So it takes a while to get the infrastructure in place to do that, but what’s going to pull that ethane is going to be even longer term than that. It’s going to be the petrochemical markets and that is going to take some time for that to build up, but it is clear from our vantage point, the U.S. ethane has such an advantage right now on anything else in the world relative to the petrochemical market. There is not anything else that’s available out there in scale supplies that’s anywhere near this cheap and it’s why you are starting to hear people talk seriously even though a year ago many of us including myself kind of doubted this, you are starting to hear a lot of people talk about ethane export. And the reason is it’s because from my vantage point and we certainly talk to a lot of international petchem players, one of the reasons is that propane and butane are showing that they are going to get exposed to international prices pretty quickly. Ethane is going to have a much harder time doing that, because you still have this much excess supply availability in the U.S. It’s going to have a much harder time getting ARBed up against oil prices, because it’s going to take much longer, much bigger infrastructure to accomplish that.
And here is why the U.S. is going to be and this is what is going to be the big driver of that infrastructure. This picture shows you here the relative cost basis of the various countries, major producers right now up against the price of ethylene. And so in blue there, you see the U.S. ethane fee, that’s not the full feedstock, it’s just U.S. ethane. And then in Western Canada, you can see the full mix of cost and that’s about little over 70% of the feedstock in Canada is ethane today. But what you see is how cheap the U.S. ethane feed is and what it’s becoming. Now, you look at this and you go well, wait a second, the Middle East is really cheap too. It is, but the problem is it’s cheap, because there is a mandated price of $0.75 an MCF for the gas that’s drilled. The challenge with that is there is not enough new supplies coming on, because the pricing isn’t there. So even though there is a price advantage, some things going to have to change there to encourage the additional drilling.
So if you were sitting around the day, the real title of this slide out to be, so where would you build a plant today? If you were in the petrochemical business and you saw the kind of demand in the ethylene space out there, where would you go build a plant today? And if you combine this slide with this slide, it becomes pretty clear in terms of how advantage the U.S. is both on the supply and the pricing side right now.
And this is an interesting picture as well that just shows how well positioned we are here in the U.S. up against ethylene. So this is a fairly complex picture that we have tried to simplify a little bit here and it basically is just showing in the blue is North America and in the green is the Middle East. And it’s the net equivalent trade derivatives from 2013 through 2023 and how that shifts? And what you can see is that on a percentage basis, the U.S. is going to capture a much larger percentage share of the growth as we go forward here and the rest the world for the most part is going to continue to give up that and so great news for the U.S. If we can pull this off both for our trade balances and for our ability to be competitive in terms of manufacturing here in the U.S., this is terrific news not just – again, not just if you are in this sector of the business, but also for the health of our economy long-term.
And just to give you a picture of how much this is think about look at this from 2013 to 2023 the kind of increase that we are seeing and the amount of plants that it takes. So this is about 40 – this increase of 63 million metric tons is about a 47% increase in the global ethylene derivative business and that’s about 40 to 50 light end world-scale crackers. And to think that the U.S. given the previous two pictures isn’t going to get a large share of that, so it’s something is going to give.
And I will tell you I think the big challenge that we will have frankly and it’s something I think as an investors have really important thing to keep your eye on there is not near enough skilled workers there is not enough construction capability in the U.S. to go after and get that build right now. And so I would tell you those of you all that were around in the Fort McMurray era back five or six years ago when you saw the extreme shortage of labor and what that did to cost overruns up there, really better have your eyes to the same issue here in the U.S. as we go after this kind of major infrastructure build out. And I can assure you that the William’s team is very focused on that effort right now.
Another very positive story here around and how quickly the picture you should take from this, the story you should get from this is how quickly the U.S. has ramped up in just a very short amount of time, how quickly it exported that much LPG. If you would show that picture in 2010, if you would come in as the audience like this and said do you know in about three years we are going to be exporting the Middle East in LPG. You would have been laughed out of the room, but we are headed well north of that and so we are really making big headways on this. An important picture here why did this happen so quickly, it happened because there are not a lot of regulatory constraints. You try to put this up against the LNG world, you re not going to see this because of the regulation on this. So LPGs had a real advantage of not having near the regulatory constraints, but it shows how quickly our capital markets can respond here if we are not constrained by a lot of the regulatory issues.
Now, I am going to move to the Marcellus real quickly here and talk about what’s going on in our – from our perspective here. And what you see here is the gas, expected gas build up in the – across the Marcellus and the Utica and as well as the corresponding potential resources on the NGL side. Now, why do I say potential, because I would tell you there is a lot of infrastructure and a lot of demand that has to happen to get up to that kind of level. And I think it’s very questionable right now whether we will be able to hit, be able to get all the infrastructure built out for that. But a key issue here as you can see the stack on the bottom right hand side that is all the various infrastructure opportunities that are building up to about 550 million barrels sorry 550,000 barrels a day of capacity out of the area.
The problem is that gray area that area where that is the hashed gray area. The further you get up towards the top of that bar that gets very, very expensive because you have already the local markets have all already been saturated and now you are having the rail further and further and further away. And as we see during the summer time when the local markets are saturated, we were actually shipping barrels all the way into California, rail costs of $0.45 or $0.57. And so I would tell you that, that gets to be very unattractive if that’s the best solution that we have to offer for the market. So the point that I would like for people to understand and it’s the way we at Williams really feel about this, we have got tremendous competitive position as you can see in the Marcellus and the Utica.
The challenge is our competition isn’t really what you think of this traditional competition, what we are really competing for is rigs. As an industry and as a basin we are competing for rigs. And if we don’t get the right infrastructure in place we don’t get the right gas takeaway infrastructure, the right access to markets and we don’t get the right liquids infrastructure or takeaway. We are going to be disadvantaged in terms of being able to attract rigs into this market because the net back to the producers aren’t going to be good enough to attract that. So we can’t settle for substandard, sub-optimized opportunities in long-term, we have got to work towards those better opportunities.
Just our picture here, we are up right on about 5 million acres now of dedication through the area through both our interest, our interest in ACMP and our interest in Blue Racer and pretty impressive position that we have across the basin, because lot of that acreage is some of the very best acreage in the play.
Secondly, I would tell you that we are now and people – and this is plan – this is 2012 actuals, so adjusted for our acquisitions. So as though we held our acquisitions that we made in 2012 for the entire year compared to our 2013 plan, our latest guidance numbers for the Marcellus, a 70% increase in our volumes alone. So lot of people pay attention to OVM and the lack of performance that we have had on OVM, yet we still saw a 70% growth in our volumes, which is well above the industry average in terms of the volume growth in the basin. And so we remain very excited about the basin and our position in it.
Moving here to blue graphs very quickly, this is a big question mark right now I think in the market’s mind, but I will tell you from our vantage point, very critical piece of infrastructure whether it’s us building this or somebody else building this, something is got to get built in terms of we are bringing access to large scale storage and very – and multiple markets and reliable export capabilities out of the Marcellus and the Utica. If we don’t find a solution like this, I think it’s going to be – we will ultimately slowdown for a period of time the growth in the Marcellus. And so I would tell you that as we stand here today continuing to have a lot of very intense negotiation with customers, the commitments that they are looking at making are huge. If you just do the math on call it a $0.15 to $0.17 transport rate, a $0.10 to $0.11 frac rate and a nickel export rate, you are little over $0.30 a gallon on say 50,000 barrel a day commitment from somebody. If you do the math on that, it’s over $200 million of commitment on somebody every year for 15 years. Those are major, major commitments.
And so a lot of boards, I will tell you are considering what degree of commitment they can make on this. And I don’t think there is any doubt in at least in our customer’s mind, the need for the project, whether it is taking a long time getting ink on the page for that kind of long-term commitment, particularly when that – if you think about it what all can happen in 15 years with that kind of commitment. So big infrastructure requires big commitment and it’s taking some time to get that, but we remain convinced. This is the most viable project available to the basin right now.
And speaking of infrastructure, the Marcellus is very – and the Utica is very uniquely positioned. If you think about what went on in Rockies and we certainly lived through that as a company both as we – when we own what is now WPX. And as an infrastructure player in the Rockies, we can’t forget the days where we had $5 to $6 basis differential between the Rockies and the Henry Hub. It took a lot of commitment and lot of infrastructure to finally get that close. As you can see in the ‘09 and ’10 that finally got closed and it got closed very well, but it took big commitment to infrastructure. In the Marcellus, we have an even more interesting opportunity, because not only do you have – get the pressure of gas-on-gas competition that you see in a basin like this. Now you have got this extreme opportunity to hit very nearby markets with very attractive pricing signals coming. And while I would tell you be very, very careful about thinking that just because gas went to $120 on a spot trade of very small volume that, that indicates a market. It does data indicate a capacity, lack of capacity and tightness in capacity that’s got to get overcome.
And so the Marcellus not only has the opportunity for infrastructure to solve what will become a problem like this in the Rockies where it’s gas-on-gas competition, it has the added benefit of being able to go in and hit a much pricier markets. The challenge I will tell you right now for this is the regulatory arena. And so we are in times when the folks are going to come out and tell enterprise what product they have to ship in their pipeline on one hand. And on the other hand, they are not willing to push permits through that can help solve some of these gas prices, some of the power generation prices in New England states. And I will tell you from a Williams perspective, we are going to have to get louder on that issue, because we don’t feel like that enough attention is being paid to really streamlining the regulatory process to get the infrastructure built. The supply is there. The demand is there. The missing link right now is critical infrastructure and critical large scale infrastructure that we are in the business of providing.
And this is a picture of how just on the Transco and the constitution system here on our Eastern systems, what we are exposed to, but tremendous growth. And the good news here, this is not supply push kind of growth, there is some supply push pikes on here, but for the most part, this is market expansion and this is exactly what the market needs. This had plenty of supply push over the years. And what it really needs to see is market pull and where Transco is sitting in a very advantage position in terms of being able to serve these growing markets. And in fact as we have quoted before within a 50-mile corridor of the Transco system, there are about 50 gigawatts of incremental power gas generation that’s been announced and that’s just to convert, that’s about 8 BCF a day of market demand. And today, we are sitting as I mentioned earlier, our certificated capacity is a little over 10 BCF even though we delivered about 11.6 BCF here not too long ago. So, a lot happening on Transco, I would just tell you everyday. I can – it’s really gotten to the point we have so many RFPs, I used to really try to stay on top of every single one of them and now I just wait until that comes forward for an investment approval, because there are just so many incremental demand loads that a lot of the smaller ones aren’t even on here.
And just to show you what that looks like, over a decade period prior to 2012, our growth rate was about 55% in terms of incremental capacity on the system. Looking forward and through 2017, we are seeing a 9% CAGR and almost doubling of our capacity from the 2010 timeframe. So not only we are seeing great growth over the years, we are seeing strong acceleration in that growth. And as you can see on this, this doesn’t even include projects that go on into ‘16 like – in ‘17 like Atlantic Sunrise, so big projects continuing to be added on to the system. Certainly, Transco is not the only place – and the Northeast are not the only place, where we have got great growth going on. Some important milestones we have hit here recently and I am really, really excited to be showing these pictures today. This is just from over the weekend, up there on the right hand side. We did float the spar out of the dock, the dry dock at Corpus Christi this weekend. And so it is almost on station now, should be there tomorrow on station at the Tubular Bells location.
And you can see there is a temporary debt is sitting on location waiting. So, as soon as the spar gets onsite, they will right the spar, put ballast in it, right the spar and then make balder, which is a big heavy lift ship there, sitting onsite. We will lift that on to the top of the spar there. And then in about a month, the permanent top sites that will come on after we pulled in all the flow lines and pipelines will be set on there in about a month. So, lot of technical detail that really excites me and may not excite you all that much, but it is – we are really hitting our milestones on Gulfstar right now. And it just looks like we are going to be well ahead of the production schedule on both Gulfstar and on Keathley Canyon Connector. So, things are going very well on two very, very critical projects for us this year. And I can tell you I can sleep a lot better at night knowing we finally have gotten to this point on these critical projects.
So in closing here, I would just tell you we have stuck with this strategy, very focused on the natural gas super cycle for quite some time. We are convinced more than ever that we are really in the sweet spot. We have positioned ourselves very well for this. And the tailwinds that we are getting right now from some lift in both NGL prices and in gas prices are exactly the kind of signal that the producing community needs to see right now to continue to develop the resources that are out in front of us. So for us, we are just very rapidly converting our business to a volume fee-based business, that’s going to be around for a long, long time. And we are putting in the kind of infrastructure that is really hard to replicate in the long-term. So building a rail facility will get you short-term cash flows as soon as somebody puts a pipeline and that all goes to not. We are focused on the stuff that’s going to be there for the long haul and it’s going to be competitively advantaged in the market. And that’s hard work, it’s a lot of risk and it’s a lot of grid on our part to push through that, but that’s exactly what we are going to stay focused on is to stop that long-term the markets going to have to – have to be sustainable. So that’s all I have and it looks like I’m done with my time.
Abhi Rajendran - Credit Suisse
I think we’ve got maybe a few minutes for questions.
Okay, great, great.
Abhi Rajendran - Credit Suisse
So I’ll just kind of kick it off. Alan, maybe you touched on the recent movements we’ve had in gas and NGL prices. Could you just talk a little bit about the puts and takes in terms of how that impacts your business either from a direct commodity exposure perspective or on a volume metric basis?
Yes, sure. Well I would just say certainly if you look into back of our decks, we give great exposure on sensitivity to the price in the back of our data books that we put out. So you can calculate as closely as we can, but we expect the impact of price movements in both NGL and gas prices, I would just tell you and things like we’ve positioned ourselves very well for instance our contracts or our shipments out of the Rockies allow us to deliver product at either Conway or Bellevue on a monthly basis so we get to call that price. And so when we have these big anomalies like we’ve been seeing likely we get to take advantage of that. And so I would just tell you again we think very much for the long-term and we pay for those options but when the option show up they’re very valuable. Yes.
Could you just give us a sense of how you guys are thinking about your investment grade ratings at WMB level since now most of the assets are at WPB? Is it a concern that we’ve been staying end of (15th of March), any comment?
Yes. I would say that we think there is big value and having an investment grade company and particularly at the parent level because it’s easy to forget the things go in cycles when money is really cheap and readily available is really easy to forget that. I’ll tell you though some of the best buying opportunities always exist when money is tight and people don’t have so many options. And so thinking about making sure we’re positioned in the long-term for being really a premier infrastructure provider. We value and covered having that investment grade at the parent. Having said that we’re always open if there were some huge value opportunities that presented itself. That would require us to take that investment grade down, we would look at it, but it would have to be extremely valuable from our perspective to go after that.
In terms of the guidance, are you starting out on schedule for later on this year?
It is. We’re not updating that. The last information we provided the guidance was April 1 on that and so that we’ll be providing some update on that next week at earnings.
In your slide that currently you had global cost curve essentially in 2018.
It looks like Europe increased a lot relative to Northeast Asia.
Tell me what is driving that big increase?
Yes, sure. If we go back rather quickly.
Salesmen in the Korean and Taiwanese guys will be up there with the orange rather with the purple?
Yes, yes, right. Well I would just say that this is just based primarily just moving off of naphtha prices and an indication on naphtha prices. So does that answer your question?
Right, right. Well I would tell you, right, I would tell you that at least from our vantage point Northeast Asia has been pretty aggressive about going after LPG supply as a feedstock. And I can tell you each one of that had a lot of those conversations and so we may have a little bit bias into that issue.
Maybe just one last one, Alan, in terms of like your corporate structure, WPZ, MLP does most of the projects, WMB, the GP also has couple of projects in the pipeline for the next couple of years.
Could you maybe talk about maybe looking out over the long run what your optimal ideal corporate structure is between the MB and the PZ levels and just how..
Yes, I mean I think we sit today and we’re pretty ambitious of the yields that some of the pure-play GPs are trading at. And so we certainly think that given our investment grade and given the plethora of opportunities that we have that we ought to be getting, we ought to be inside those yields frankly. And so we’ll be working to try to find ways to do that. But I think in general we still like the model of having apparent capable of generating assets and being able to drop them down, but clearly I would say the market is not giving us much credit for that today relative to our peers. Yes.
How is the process coming to finalize something for Canada PDH?
We are right in the final throws of getting the feed study, so the final – or the front end engineering and design work done on that. The counterparty side, the negotiations are going very well. We are not ready to announce exactly with who on that, but we will be announcing some of the general terms of that in not too distant future. So negotiations are finally pretty well come to a close even though definitive agreements are still in drafting form at this point. So but I would say that remaining risk on that is really making sure that we are confident with the feed study and the final pricing and the feed study for that project.
Abhi Rajendran - Credit Suisse
Alan Armstrong - President and Chief Executive Officer
Okay, thank you all very much. I appreciate your attention.
Abhi Rajendran - Credit Suisse
And we are hosting an MLP panel, I think in the rooms next door, so hopefully we will see you there.
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