Last quarter marked the end of an era for Williams Companies (NYSE: WMB) and its MLP Williams Partners (NYSE: WPZ). After delivering year-over-year earnings growth in 15 straight quarters, the duo took a breather last quarter mainly due to asset sales. It's a trend they'll look to reverse in the fourth quarter. Here are a few things to look for in that report, which should hit the wire Wednesday evening.
See if results hit the high end of the guidance range
Through the third quarter, Williams Partners had generated $3.32 billion of adjusted EBITDA. That kept the company on pace to hit its full-year guidance for adjusted EBITDA between $4.25 billion to $4.45 billion. That said, given that the company pulled in $1.11 billion of adjusted EBITDA during the fourth quarter of 2016, it needs earnings to come in toward the upper end of that range to deliver a year-over-year improvement. While that's a tall order, there is a reason for optimism.
That's because Williams placed all of its "big 5" Transco expansion projects into service last year, finishing the fifth project in early December, which was on time and under budget. Those growth projects combined to boost the capacity of Transco by 25% and will therefore provide a meaningful boost to the company's earnings. In fact, through the third quarter, these projects had already added $74 million in incremental revenue, which was about 7% higher year over year.
In addition to Transco, another driver during the quarter should be the company's northeast gathering and processing segment. That's because Williams increased its stake in two Marcellus Shale gathering systems earlier in the year and expected to place a new expansion project into service by the end of the quarter.
Keep an eye on the outlook
Those expansion projects, when combined with others coming down the pipeline, position the Williams franchise to deliver steady growth in the coming years. As things currently stand, Williams Partners expects to increase its 6.2%-yielding distribution at a 5% to 7% annual rate, which would fuel 10% to 15% yearly growth for Williams Companies' 4.2%-yielding dividend. Given those expectations, investors should look at the company's guidance for 2018 to see if it's still on track.
Williams has already indicated that earnings should grow this year because it has several more expansion projects slated to enter service in the coming months. First up is Phase 2 of its Garden State Expansion project, which should start service next quarter. In addition to that, Williams is working to finish up its massive $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise project by mid year. These projects, when combined with other expansions, position Williams Partners to deliver significant earnings growth this year. Meanwhile, the company has secured new growth projects that should help move the needle in 2019, including obtaining the necessary approvals for the Gulf Connector Expansion, which should start up in the first half of next year. That said, it would be ideal to see the company announce that it has locked up a few more projects during the quarter, because that would increase the visibility of future growth.
Ready for growth to resume
After watching its earnings growth streak come to an end last quarter, Williams is ready to begin another one. That might have happened in the fourth quarter if the company's "big 5" projects fueled high-end growth. That said, even if the company took another breather, it shouldn't last too much longer since it has several more expansion projects under way that should take earnings to new heights in 2018. That high-octane growth suggests that income investors should collect a steadily growing income stream for at least the next couple of years.
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