Owning a pipeline is one of the best income sources available. While they require a big upfront investment, pipelines are not that costly to maintain. Once laid, they just sit there, delivering oil to customers and spitting out profits for owners. Buried deep underground, their cash flows resemble bond coupons.
That’s why pipeline stocks like TransCanada Corporation (TSX:TRP)(NYSE:TRP) and Kinder Morgan Inc. (NYSE:KMI) have been so lucrative to own. In the past 10 years, investors have seen their shares soar in value, while collecting globs of dividend income.
However, it’s not easy to choose between two such wonderful businesses. So, today we’re asking, Which pipeline company is a better bet for income investors? Let’s see how they stack up on a range of measures.
1. Yield: This one is straightforward. Today, Kinder Morgan yields 4.5%, which is nearly one percentage point above TransCanada’s 3.8% payout. If you need current income, Kinder Morgan is your first choice. Winner: Kinder Morgan
2. Dividend growth: For most investors, this is about as far as they dig. Unfortunately, investing is not as simple as picking the stocks with the highest yields. Dividend growth is also important because we want to ensure our income can keep up with rising prices.
TransCanada and Kinder Morgan have hiked their payouts by 5.4% and 12.5% annually in the past five years, respectively. That’s more than enough to beat inflation and give investors a nice annual raise to boot. Winner: Kinder Morgan
3. Earnings growth: Future dividend hikes can only come from growing profits. Thankfully, energy production across North America is surging. To accommodate growing output, both of these companies are spending billions to expand their pipeline networks.
According to analysts’ estimates compiled by Reuters, Kinder Morgan and TransCanada are projected to grow earnings per share by 4% and 10% annually in the next five years, respectively. That should provide plenty of room for future dividend hikes. Winner: TransCanada
4. Currency: For Canadian investors, owning a U.S. stock introduces currency risk. Fluctuating exchange rates can help or hurt you, but it’s an extra uncertainty that you have to worry about. However, with Canadian stocks like TransCanada, you don’t run into this extra complication. Winner: TransCanada
5. Safety: For us income investors, a distribution cut is a nightmare. For those of us who rely on dividends to pay the bills, there’s nothing worse than watching our stream of income suddenly dry up.
That said, TransCanada has paid a dividend every year since 1964—one of the longest streaks of consecutive distributions in the country. Kinder Morgan has a good track record of rewarding investors, too. However, the U.S. rival has only been paying out dividends since going public in 2011. Winner: TransCanada
6. Valuation: The crisis in the energy industry has hit oil stocks hard and even boring pipeline names have not been spared. Today, TransCanada and Kinder Morgan trade at 17 and 28 times forward earnings, respectively. That’s well below their historical averages, though about in line with peers. Winner: TransCanada
And the results are in…
TransCanada and Kinder Morgan are both wonderful businesses. That said, I lean slightly towards TransCanada for its faster growth and relative safety. And given how close these companies fare on a variety of criteria, I don’t see a good reason for Canadian investors to take on the extra currency risk with Kinder Morgan.
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Fool contributor Robert Baillieul has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Kinder Morgan.