3 Things to Watch When Brookfield Infrastructure Partners L.P. Reports Fourth-Quarter Results

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Last year was a fantastic one for Brookfield Infrastructure Partners L.P. (NYSE: BIP). The global infrastructure company delivered a market-crushing total return of 39.7%, besting the red-hot S&P 500's impressive 21.8% total return. Fueling that outperformance was a combination of acquisitions and organic growth, which helped power a nearly 30% increase in the company's cash flow through the third quarter.

Given that strong showing, investors have high expectations for the company's upcoming fourth-quarter results, which it expects to release Friday morning. Here are three things to watch in the report that would suggest that it's maintaining its momentum.

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See if its growth rate remained strong

In the third quarter, Brookfield's funds from operations (FFO) rose to $301 million, or $0.81 per unit, up 28% and 19%, respectively, from the year-ago quarter. Several factors drove that growth, including the acquisition of a stake in a natural gas pipeline system from Brazilian oil giant Petrobras (NYSE: PBR) and an increased interest in a pipeline joint venture with energy infrastructure behemoth Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI). Given the timing of the close of the Petrobras deal and recent strategic initiatives with Kinder Morgan, these transactions should have continued fueling growth in the fourth quarter.

Another driver of its strong results through the third quarter was substantial volume growth in the transportation segment due to higher traffic on its toll roads. Investors should keep an eye on volume to see if it remained strong. If it did, then the company should have no problem posting excellent results again in the fourth quarter.

Check to see what's coming down the pipeline

Brookfield Infrastructure noted in its last earnings release that it had secured just two small acquisitions, a $100 million investment in toll roads in India and a $15 million deal for a water utility in Peru. It had another transaction to invest $200 million into a portfolio of cell towers in India, but the deal fell apart. Because of that, the visibility into M&A-driven growth wasn't as clear as it had been.

That said, the company did say that it had other deals in the works, including additional tower transactions in India. Meanwhile, several reports indicated that the company had an agreement in place to buy a gas distribution business in Colombia. Ideally, we'd like to see the company reveal that it has a few more acquisitions lined up for this year since the Petrobras and Kinder Morgan deals fueled so much growth last year. Keep an eye on water infrastructure transactions in particular, since that's an area of focus for the company.

In addition to lining up more acquisitions, Brookfield noted that it had $2.3 billion of expansion projects underway and another $1.5 billion under development, including $300 million within its pipeline joint venture with Kinder Morgan. It would be great to see that the company converted more of its potential projects to the backlog during the quarter since those expansions can earn higher investment returns than acquisitions.

Look at how much the company increases the dividend

Brookfield aims to continue expanding its portfolio of infrastructure assets so it can steadily grow cash flow and raise its distribution to investors. It has done an excellent job over the years, increasing the payout at a 12% compound annual growth rate since 2009. Last year was no exception, with the company raising it 11%, which was well above its 5% to 9% annual target.

Brookfield has traditionally announced a distribution increase along with its fourth-quarter results. Given that history, investors should see if it sticks with that trend and how much it decides to raise the payout. It's possible that the company could boost the distribution at or above the high end of its guidance range again this year. Fueling that view is the fact that FFO was up 15% per unit through the third quarter and its payout ratio was 65%, which was in the middle of its 60% to 70% target range. A high-end increase would certainly excite income seekers since it would push the company's already attractive 4.2%-yielding payout meaningfully higher.

Set up for a fine finish

Brookfield Infrastructure Partners should report another strong quarter on Friday, fueled by acquisitions it closed in the past year. In addition to that, the company will likely boost its distribution and hopefully provide some clarity on some new growth initiatives. Those factors would position the company for a solid 2018, though it will be tough for the company to repeat its spectacular performance from last year.

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Matthew DiLallo owns shares of Brookfield Infrastructure Partners and Kinder Morgan and has the following options: short March 2018 $17 puts on Kinder Morgan. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Kinder Morgan. The Motley Fool recommends Brookfield Infrastructure Partners. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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