Master limited partnerships, or MLPs, represent an investment in energy infrastructure in North America.
MLPs own, operate and build energy infrastructure assets such as pipelines, storage facilities and processing plants.
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One of the advantages of MLPs is that they are able to charge leases and tolls on their infrastructure assets that are inelastic with respect to traditional energy demand. In addition, their corporate structure allows them to pay out a significant portion of operating profit in the form of quarterly dividends.
This makes them a potential income opportunity for investors looking to boost the yield on their portfolio above current low interest rate levels.
The Alerian MLP ETF (NYSE:AMLP) is the largest ETF in this segment, with over $8.5 billion invested in 25 underlying MLPs. The index construction of AMLP is based on a passive, market-cap weighted asset allocation that is designed to overweight the largest companies. The top holdings include Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE:EPD) and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE:KMP).
The current yield on AMLP is 6.14 percent, and qualified dividends are paid quarterly to shareholders. Another benefit of owning an ETF such as AMLP is that holders do not receive a K-1 tax form as they would if they owned these MLPs directly.
This allows investors to sidestep the tax headache of declaring partnership income that would otherwise not directly correlate with gains or losses on the direct investment.
The Yorkville High Income MLP ETF (NYSE:YMLP) is another unique MLP portfolio, designed to select underlying holdings based on their income and distribution characteristics. The end result is a portfolio of 25 MLPs with a strong yield of 8.12 percent and distinguishably different construction characteristics than AMLP.
The top sub-sector allocation within YMLP is exploration and production companies that account for 45 percent of the underlying holdings.
The last ETF that deserves mention in this category is the First Trust North American Energy Infrastructure Fund (NYSE:EMLP). This fund is actively managed to incorporate both traditional utility stocks and master limited partnerships within its diversified portfolio of 60 holdings.
While this unconventional style results in a lower yield than its competitors, at just 2.57 percent, its asset allocation structure has allowed it to achieve the best year-to-date total return of its peer group. So far this year, EMLP has gained 9.55 percent while AMLP has gained 5.19 percent.
Each of these funds offers an innovative way to play the pipeline and energy space, while receiving a healthy income stream in the process.
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