This stock is sold on the yield.
I think you should buy shares on the underlying assets and not a running yield.
So it is worth looking at what the underlying assets are.
Here from the last 10-K is a disclosure on the number of productive wells owned:
Natural Gas Wells
The Company had 12 operated wells with multiple completions at December 31, 2011.
The Company had no nonoperated wells with multiple completions at December 31, 2011.
The previous year the total was not dramatically different - this from the 10-K for the year ended 2010:
Natural Gas Wells
Ten operated wells had multiple completions at December 31, 2010.
Three nonoperated wells had multiple completions at December 31, 2010.
They would have averaged about 3,170 net productive gas wells and 3,520 net productive oil wells. The average total productive wells would have averaged about 6,700.
And here from the form 10-K is the average daily production.
Year Ended December 31,
Average daily production:
Natural gas (MMcf/d)
They produced 175,000 Mcf/d of natural gas and 21,500 barrels of oil per day with another 10,800 barrels of natural gas liquids.
The total gas equivalent is 369,000 Mcf/d of natural gas.
Lets do some division. The oil wells produce 21,500 barrels of oil per day from an average of 3,520 wells. This is an average of 6 barrels per day.
There are going to be an awful lot of wells that produce less than two barrels per day.
The gas wells produce 175,000 Mcf/d of natural gas from 3,170 wells. This works out at 55 Mcf/d in gas. At a $3 gas price these wells are producing - get this - $165 in natural gas per day. Presumably these wells are also declining...
Fortunately they also produce 10,800 barrels of natural gas liquids per day. That is 3.4 barrels of liquids (at about $45 a barrel as an estimate).
I have a few questions of management:
How many of the much-vaunted wells produce less than $100 gross revenue per day? Oh, that $100 needs to be before hedging!
How many wells were shut down or went out of production in each of the last five years because the flow rates were so low the wells became non-economic?
What is the right level of maintenance capital expenditure for wells with flow rates this low? How does this level of maintenance capital expenditure differ from the maintenance capital expenditure used for calculating distributable amounts?
High valuations for clapped-out assets
This company sports a premium valuation for very old and very run-down-low-production wells.
I believe this premium valuation is because people see the (high and attractive) dividends not the (clapped-out) underlying assets.
The fact that the dividends are - at least in part produced by financial engineering not cash flow (as per the last post) is besides the point. This company buys and manages clapped out oil and gas properties and maintains a perception of asset backing. After all the MLP is issuing large numbers of units and they are selling both dividends and the perception of asset backing. Telling a good story about run-down assets is necessary.
The long term future of Linn Energy: Who would normally own the wells?
These wells are valuable. A well flowing 3 barrels per day still generates $70-100 thousand a year of gross revenue. There is only a small fraction of that left after production taxes and maintenance. Someone has to fuel and maintain the nodding-donkey oil pump after all. And someone has to drive the truck around to collect the oil.
This is gritty work. Apart from anything these fields are laden with environmental problems - because typically the pump is pulling up a barrel of oil and fifty barrels of salt water per day. The salt water needs to be disposed of. And the oil collected and spills dealt with.
So you are under no illusions this what a typical unit producing one barrel per day (and 150 barrels of salt water) looks like check out this video from You Tube.
What you own if you own Linn Energy is simple. It is thousands of these things.
But lets get back to the natural owner of this well. I know the guy. Sun burnt but would be far more sun burnt without the hat. A pick-up truck. Dog and a shot-gun in the back. Political views well to the right of mine.
You have to admire this guy - he is a self-reliant individual who works without much corporate overhead. Has nobody to blame when the electric motor burns out than himself. And he works hard. Real hard.*
This assets owned by Linn Energy are not normally the sort of asset owned by a 14 billion dollar enterprise valuation listed entity. They are owned by the red-necked, gun-toting self-reliant individual who works hard and does not mind getting his hands dirty.
When this MLP runs out of cash to distribute it is likely to be dismantled and the assets will be sold to those those fine people with their politics, dogs and shotguns. Assets like these tend to find their natural owners.
In liquidation I seriously doubt if there will be anything like enough to make whole the $7 billion owned to the banks and other lenders. If you are Linn Energy debt-holder beware.
Something substantial for the residual equity holders? Surely you must be joking?
*Please understand I am not mocking the natural owner here. If my (non-existent) daughter married him I would be pleased for her even if social conversation at Christmas dinner was awkward. I have far more respect for that-type than I have for many financial or CEO types...