Opportunity Knocks

The good news, if you want to call it that, for MLP investors, is that we’ve now had almost a year to get used to the extent of panic currently roiling global financial markets.

The better news is that we clearly need crude below $40 a barrel to work off the current storage glut, idle more rigs and finally refocus traders from the recent supply surplus to the growing demand that will only be satisfied at higher prices.

In the meantime, of course, our portfolios are worth less than they once were, at least on paper. But here too there’s no shortage of silver linings.

Start with the fact that those paper losses needn’t become permanent if we don’t sell the securities likely to produce a reliable income stream for years to come.

Proceed to the likelihood that investments made with this level of fear in the market and this degree of skepticism about energy prices are likely to prove rewarding over the next few years.

The guy who bought MLPs because they kept going up and everyone said were a quick way to get rich on the shale revolution has sold out. The people with a yen for yield but no appreciation of any equity investment’s risks and costs are either gone as well or hanging on for dear life after an expensive education. The institutional hucksters who sang MLPs’ praises to market their new funds have piped down.

Those of us left bear a somewhat closer resemblance to MLPs’ initial investor base: patient, long-term holders content reinvest the distributions, rarely check the price and enjoy a tax-deferred income stream until death, at which point the security would get passed on to heirs.

This was an excellent gravy train for years before the hype showed up, and it can be again now that it has gone away.

But we’re not going to get our happy ending in a day or in a month, and there may be more panicky days ahead. Resolve to take advantage by locking up yields that would have seemed impossibly rich just a year ago.

That’s the reward on offer for all the volatility and the heartache, and it’s one that will pay dividends for years into the future. But it’s only available for those who buy when buying is very hard as losses breed fear — and further losses, and more fear.

Those who’ve recently bought can attest that this negative feedback loop can quickly shred the value of a new position. That’s what happens a lot while there’s blood in the streets.  It’s why it makes sense to gradually accumulate a position as the price declines.

No one can ever be certain of perfectly timing the bottom. All we can do is to try to acquire stakes in good businesses cheaply enough that the rewards dwarf risks over the long haul.

Almost a year into this slump, most MLP units and related equities should be owned by strong hands willing to wait out the current weakness in energy prices. The remainder will get there soon enough. All we can do is speed up the process some by taking advantage of the current clearance sale.

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