Parsing President Trump and a Reader’s Grave Error
Today, as we await the results of the presidential election, I would like to do something a bit different. First, I will provide some pre-election commentary on the likely energy policies under Donald Trump. But then I want to spend the remainder of this column on another topic.
After receiving a puzzling email last week from a reader, I thought perhaps I should discuss the purpose of this column, and how it relates to our subscription newsletters The Energy Strategist and MLP Profits.
First, a quick commentary on the election. In January, when I made my 2016 energy predictions, I wrote that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential election. I noted at the time that as president she would likely pursue energy policies similar to those pushed by the Obama Administration.
Although her campaign lost some momentum last week, I still think Clinton is likely to defeat Donald Trump. If she does win, I will discuss her likely energy policies in the next column.
But last week I was on a radio show and I was asked, “What kind of energy policies might we see under a President Trump?” Given the developments over the past week, that is something that is perhaps worth a brief discussion.
President Trump’s policies would be friendlier to fossil fuels than those of the Obama Administration. Pipelines within federal purview would be less likely to be held up by environmental concerns. He would be advised by those in the oil, natural gas, and coal industries. The parade of new regulations would grind to a halt, and old restrictions may be rolled back. Renewables have momentum and would continue to grow, albeit more slowly than under a Clinton administration if Trump succeeded in curbing subsidies.
His policies (in time) would probably lead to incrementally higher oil, gas, and coal production than under a Clinton Administration. All other things being equal, that ought to result in lower prices but higher carbon dioxide emissions. Trump won’t be able to save the coal industry as he has promised, because its most recent slump was largely been caused by an abundance of cheap natural gas. To the extent that he can roll back regulations designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, it will be a positive for the coal industry, but not enough to bring it back to where it was.
Now, about that reader email I received last week. The sender was upset because a stock I had discussed a year ago had plunged last week. The complaint was that I didn’t warn about the pitfalls that led the the company to cut its quarterly distribution last week.
The source of the reader’s regret is the master limited partnership StoneMor Partners (NYSE: STON). This is one of a handful of unconventional MLPs not involved in the shipping and processing of oil or natural gas. StoneMor owns cemeteries. The email left me confused, because we never once recommended STON in either The Energy Strategist or MLP Profits.
I did in fact write an article on this partnership just over a year ago (High Income From Grim Reaper). The column presented StoneMor’s business model and discussed its recent performance. It noted that it was one of several unconventional MLPs that had largely escaped what was at the time a bear market in the oil and gas sector. But one thing I did not do was recommend this MLP to investors.
The column you are reading has several purposes. One is to discuss energy markets and energy industry developments. Sometimes I will focus on an interesting or important company in the energy sector. Note that I did this last week with ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) in When the Bleeding Stops. But I would hope it was clear from that column that despite the strides COP has made, the column was not an endorsement or recommendation of the stock.
At times we will follow up on my initial profile with much more in-depth research that leads to an investment recommendation in one of our subscriber-only features. When we do this, we provide a Buy limit, alert the subscribers and add the stock to one of our model portfolios. We will also provide updates on the recommendation, and should we change our opinion we will once again notify subscribers.
This is what happened with another unconventional MLP that we did end up recommending. I have written about amusement park operator Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN) several times in the past. For an example, see Stalking Exotic MLPs. Then, in January 2015, my colleague Igor Greenwald performed additional research and recommended Cedar Fair in MLP Profits.
This, from Igor’s January article, is what a Buy recommendation looks like. At the end of an article on the company, Igor wrote:
“Unless and until consumers are running scared once again, Cedar Fair is a boring, relatively stable and perfectly decent yield worth riding. We’re adding FUN to the Aggressive Portfolio with a buy limit of $58.”
Cedar Fair has since racked up a total return of more than 25%.
To reiterate: this column doesn’t make buy and sell recommendations. We often provide sector guidance, we discuss general energy issues, and we will highlight companies that may or may not be of further interest to readers. But when we make an actual investment recommendation we do a lot more research and provide a buy limit as well as a risk rating, as with the Cedar Fair recommendation above. This was never the case with StoneMor.
If you’re looking for actionable investment advice, we certainly offer it. At present I count more than 30 Buy-rated recommendations (in addition to about as many Holds) across the three model portfolios in MLP Profits and a similar number in the three Energy Strategist portfolios. We further designate some of these picks as Best Buys, which are the stocks we think have the best risk/reward ratio. Consider subscribing if your portfolio could use such guidance.