Is there any way that a 17% yield could be safe?

That’s what we’re going to figure out as we look at Williams Partners (NYSE: WPZ), a beaten-up MLP whose stock has fallen hard as a result of plunging oil and gas prices.

Williams Partners operates pipelines in the United States’ most gas-rich areas, including the Eagle Ford, Utica and Marcellus shale regions. Williams is a dominant player in the Marcellus region.

[ad#Google Adsense 336×280-IA]Only 10% of the company’s cash flow is tied to the price of oil and gas.

The rest is fee-based – though low energy prices could cause customers to renegotiate when contracts expire.

That is one of the biggest fears right now and what is primarily responsible for the fall in the stock price.

Another issue is that Williams Partners is owned by Williams Companies (NYSE: WMB), which is being acquired by Energy Transfer Equity (NYSE: ETE).

The deal is not expected to close until at least June. The uncertainty surrounding the acquisition and what it means for Williams Partners has also weighed on the shares.

That being said, Williams Partners does have some things going for it.

The company has paid a distribution since November 2010 and has raised it every quarter except the past two, when it kept the distribution at $0.85.

Despite the shellacking in its stock price, Williams generates plenty of cash to pay its distribution. In 2015, cash available for distribution (a measure of cash flow for MLPs) was $2.82 billion. It paid out $2.05 billion, easily covering the distribution.

One issue to be concerned about, however, is debt. Williams Partners has a lot of it. The ratio of its debt to EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) is currently 9.4.

When companies have a high debt load, it makes it more difficult for them to pay the distribution if cash flow doesn’t cover it.

So there are a couple of issues: the high debt level and the declining cash flow in 2016.

These make a dividend cut possible, although not necessarily likely – at least not in the next 12 months, unless cash flow really dries up and shows no signs of improvement for 2017.

I can easily see an upgrade happening later in the year if 2017’s cash flow estimates show growth.

I’m not especially worried.

The stock is a current recommendation in The Oxford Income Letter.

If I were very concerned, I’d tell subscribers to exit the position.

Dividend Safety Rating: C

Good investing,



Source: Wealthy Retirement