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On August 7, 2012, Regency Energy Partners LP (NYSE:RGP) reported results of operations for 2Q 2012. Revenues, operating income, net income and earnings before interest, depreciation & amortization and income tax expenses (EBITDA) were as follows:

Period::

2Q12

2Q11

1H12

1H11

Revenues

312

356

670

674

Operating income

23

5

33

13

Net income

29

15

58

29

EBITDA

102

80

212

155

Adjusted EBITDA

115

103

249

195

Weighted average units outstanding (million)

170

143

164

140

Table 1: Figures in $ Millions except shares outstanding

RGP has 5 business segments: (1) Gathering and Processing provides "wellhead-to-market" services to producers of natural gas. This segment also includes RGP's investment in Ranch JV, which processes natural gas delivered from shale formations in west Texas; (2) Contract Compression owns and operate a fleet of compressors used to provide turn-key natural gas compression services; (3) Contract Treating owns and operates a fleet of equipment used to provide treating services, such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide removal, natural gas cooling, dehydration and BTU management, to natural gas producers and midstream pipeline companies; (4) the Corporate and Others segment comprises a small regulated pipeline and our corporate offices; and (5) the Joint Ventures segment.

Segment margin performance of the first 4 segments in 2Q12 vs. 2Q11 and in 1H12 (first half of 2012) vs. 1H11 is summarized below:

Period::

2Q12

2Q11

1H12

1H11

Gathering and Processing

79

50

151

104

Contract Compression

38

37

77

78

Contract Treating

7

8

15

15

Corporate and Others

5

5

10

10

Eliminations

(5)

(3)

(10)

(9)

Total segment margin:

125

97

243

198

Table 2: Figures in $ Millions

As indicated by Table 2, the improvement in total segment margin has been driven by Gathering and Processing which benefited from increased volumes in south and west Texas and north Louisiana. RGP does not record segment margin for the fifth segment, Joint Ventures, because it records its ownership percentages of the net income of its unconsolidated affiliates as income from unconsolidated affiliates in accordance with the equity method of accounting.

The Joint Ventures segment includes: (1) a 49.99% general partner interest in RIGS Haynesville Partnership Co.,("HPC"), which owns a 450 mile intrastate pipeline that delivers natural gas from northwest Louisiana to downstream pipelines and markets; (2) a 50% membership interest in Midcontinent Express Pipeline LLC ("MEP"), which owns an interstate natural gas pipeline with approximately 500 miles stretching from southeast Oklahoma through northeast Texas, northern Louisiana and central Mississippi to an interconnect with the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line system in Butler, Alabama; and (3) a 30% membership interest in Lone Star, an entity owning a diverse set of midstream energy assets including NGL pipelines, storage, fractionation and processing facilities located in the states of Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Income from these unconsolidated affiliates in 2Q12 vs. 2Q11 and in 1H12 vs. 1H11 is summarized below:

Period:

2Q12

2Q11

1H12

1H11

HPC

11.6

13.7

21.5

27.3

MEP

10.2

10.1

20.9

20.3

Lone Star

12.4

8.4

23.7

8.3

Table 3: Figures in $ Millions

As indicated by Table 3, the primary driver of performance for the Joint Ventures segment is Lone Star which became operational in May 2011 and provided a full quarter's contribution in 2Q12.

Given quarterly fluctuations in revenues, working capital needs and other items, it makes sense to review trailing 12 months ("TTM") numbers rather than quarterly numbers for the purpose of analyzing changes in reported and sustainable distributable cash flows.

RGP's definition of Distributable Cash Flow ("DCF") and a comparison to definitions used by other master limited partnerships ("MLPs") are described in an article titled Distributable Cash Flow ("DCF"). Using that definition, DCF for the trailing 12 months ("TTM") period ending 6/30/12 was $330 million ($2.09 per unit), up from $256 million ($1.89 per unit) in the comparable prior year period.

As always, I first attempt to assess how these DCF figures compare with what I call sustainable DCF for these periods and whether distributions were funded by additional debt or issuing additional units. Given quarterly fluctuations in revenues, working capital needs and other items, it makes sense to review TTM numbers rather than quarterly numbers for the purpose of analyzing changes in reported and sustainable distributable cash flows.

The generic reasons why DCF as reported by the MLP may differ from sustainable DCF are reviewed in an article titled Estimating Sustainable DCF-Why and How. Applying the method described there to RGP's results through 1Q 2012 generates the comparison outlined in the table below:

12 months ending:

6/30/12

6/30/11

Net cash provided by operating activities

235

217

Less: Maintenance capital expenditures

(29)

(12)

Less: Working capital (generated)

-

(11)

Less: Net income attributable to noncontrolling interests

(2)

(1)

Sustainable DCF

204

193

Add: Net income attributable to noncontrolling interests

2

1

Working capital used

24

-

Risk management activities

2

0

Proceeds from sale of assets / disposal of liabilities

21

20

Other

76

42

DCF as reported

330

256

Table 4: Figures in $ Millions

The principal differences between reported DCF and sustainable DCF relate to working capital, proceeds from asset sales, and RGP's substantial, but non-controlling, stakes in the entities within its Joint Ventures segment.

Under RGP's definition, reported DCF always excludes working capital changes, whether positive or negative. In contrast, as detailed in my prior articles, I generally do not include working capital generated in the definition of sustainable DCF but I do deduct working capital invested (this accounts for $24 million of the variance between reported and sustainable DCF in 2Q12). Despite appearing to be inconsistent, this makes sense because in order to meet my definition of sustainability the master limited partnerships should, on the one hand, generate enough capital to cover normal working capital needs. On the other hand, cash generated from working capital is not a sustainable source and I therefore ignore it. Over reasonably lengthy measurement periods, working capital generated tends to be offset by needs to invest in working capital. I therefore do not add working capital consumed to net cash provided by operating activities in deriving sustainable DCF. Similarly, I also do not add back into DCF items I do not regard as sustainable, such as proceeds from asset sales.

The largest variance between reported and sustainable DCF related to RGP's substantial, but non-controlling, stakes in the entities within its Joint Ventures segment. Pursuant to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the Partnership records its share of the net income in these other pipelines as income from unconsolidated affiliates in accordance with the equity method of accounting. However, for purposes of calculating DCF, RGP treats these as if they were fully consolidated by deducting its share of net income, adding its share of the earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation & amortization (EBITDA), and further adjusting to take into account its share of interest expense and maintenance capital expenditures.

On the one hand, I can accept classifying RGP's share of cash flows generated from these entities in the sustainable category despite the fact that RGP does not control them (i.e., cannot determine what to do with the cash they generate). This is because they are similar in every other respect to RGP's other pipeline assets and because RGP and/or Energy Transfer Equity, L.P. (NYSE:ETE), RGP's general partner, do exercise a significant degree of influence over them. On the other hand, RGP's share of cash flows generated from these entities (which accounts for the bulk of the $76 million and the $42 million in the "Other" line item) does not, as of the date of the report, appear on RGP's balance sheet and does not increase RGP's end-of-period cash balance.

Coverage ratios, with and without this line item, are as indicated in the table below:

12 months ending:

6/30/12

6/30/11

Distributions to unitholders ($ Millions)

$302

$250

Weighted average units outstanding

158

136

Coverage ratio based on reported DCF

1.09

1.03

Coverage ratio based on sustainable DCF (including non-consolidated entities)

0.93

0.94

Coverage ratio based on sustainable DCF

0.68

0.77

Table 5

Whichever way you look at it, these are thin coverage ratios.

I find it helpful to look at a simplified cash flow statement by netting certain items (e.g., acquisitions against dispositions) and by separating cash generation from cash consumption. Here is what I see for RGP:

Simplified Sources and Uses of Funds

12 months ending:

6/30/12

6/30/11

Net cash from operations, less maintenance capex, less net income from non-controlling interests, less distributions

(96)

(45)

Capital expenditures ex maintenance, net of proceeds from sale of PP&E

(362)

(218)

Acquisitions, investments (net of sale proceeds)

(594)

(200)

Cash contributions/distributions related to affiliates & noncontrolling interests

-

(552)

Other CF from financing activities, net

-

(28)

 

(1,052)

(1,042)

   

Cash contributions/distributions related to affiliates & noncontrolling interests

438

-

Debt incurred (repaid)

98

417

Partnership units issued

529

624

Other CF from financing activities, net

1

-

 

1,065

1,041

Net change in cash

13

(1)

Table 6: Figures in $ Millions

Net cash from operations, less maintenance capital expenditures, less net income from non-controlling interests did not cover distributions in both periods. The shortfall was $96 million for the TTM ending 6/30/12 and $45 million for the comparable prior year period. Table 6 therefore shows that distributions in both TTM periods were partially financed by issuing equity and debt, despite the fact that RGP's reported DCF exceeded the amount distributed (as shown in Tables 4 and 5). The reason, as previously noted, is that reported DCF included items that never make it into the cash flow statement (i.e., cash flows from the non-consolidated pipelines and some other adjustments).

Growth capital expenditures in 2012, including capital contributions to RGP's unconsolidated affiliates (i.e., the non-controlling, stakes in other pipelines), are expected to total ~$800 million, of which ~ $373 million was expended in 1H 2012. With long term debt at ~4.4x EBITDA for the TTM ending 6/30/12 and over $400 million of growth capital expenditures required in 2H 2012, I would not be surprised to see additional equity issuances in 2012. The projects being financed will begin to impact RGP's results only in 2013-2014.

Energy Transfer Equity, L.P. , RGP's general partner, is entitled, via its incentive distribution rights ("IDRs"), to 48% of any increase in RGP's current distributions. RGP is at a significant disadvantage in terms of cost of capital compared to MLPs who are at a lower threshold or have eliminated IDRs altogether. Roughly speaking, an incremental project must generate ~15.4% cash return of which ~7.4% (48%) would be distributed to ETE and ~8% to the limited partners.

As of 8/24/12, RGP's current yield of 8% is higher than of most of the other MLPs I cover. For example, 4.60% for Magellan Midstream Partners (NYSE:MMP); 4.82% for Enterprise Products Partners L.P. (NYSE:EPD); 4.93% for Plains All American Pipeline (NYSE:PAA); 6.02% for Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE:KMP); 6.20% for El Paso Pipeline Partners (NYSE:EPB); 6.22% for Williams Partners (NYSE:WPZ); 6.41% for Targa Resources Partners (NYSE:NGLS); and 7.92% for Boardwalk Pipeline Partners (NYSE:BWP). RGP's yield is lower than the 8.52% offered by Buckeye Partner (NYSE:BPL) and the 8.48% by its affiliate, Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE:ETP).

In light of the low coverage ratio, the relatively high leverage and my discomfort with the structural complexity surrounding ETE and ETP, I would stay on the sidelines despite the attractive yield.

Disclosure: I am long EPD, EPB, PAA, WPZ, ETP, ETE. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Source: A Closer Look At Regency Energy Partners' Distributable Cash Flow As Of 2Q 2012