Gas prices have come in a little bit from the spike levels we saw earlier in the year, but the price at the pump is still one of the economic indicators that has the biggest impact on us — the prices are in huge, bold numbers on signs all along our roadways, and the routine of buying gas and watching the dollars tick by on the pump means that watching the dollars flow out of your pocket at the gas pump is one of the more vivid ways that the decline in the American standard of living, or at least the decline in the dollar’s purchasing power, hits our psyche.
And the newsletter copywriters know this, of course, so there’s a long history of using the idea of getting “payback” or “refunds” for those regular and irritating gas purchases. In the past this has almost always been a thinly-veiled way of saying, “If you’re sick of paying so much for gas, just buy some oil stocks so you actually benefit from the other side of the deal, too.”
This isn’t too different in concept from the “claim your gas rebate check” teaser that the Oxford Club ran for a long time a couple years back, though that one teased specifically the Canadian Income Trusts, which don’t exist in the same way today.
So what is Jim Nelson pitching today? He’s got an ad running for his Lifetime Income Report that tells us we can get a little “Gaspump Revenge” if we follow his advice and use a “little known ‘loophole'” signed into law by Ronald Reagan. Which means the more astute among you probably already know what we’re talking about — but don’t spoil the surprise for the rest of the class!
And yes, I’m just thankful that Nelson has stopped running the Scandinavian Income Certificates ad that was so pervasive for a year or so that it made up most of my “questions to answer” pile for weeks at a time. It’s nice to see something new!
Here’s how Nelson pitches his idea for these “10-86 Plans:”
“Around here, we call it the ’10-86 Plan.’
“Some also call it the ‘gaspump payback.’
“I explain why in just a second.
“But whatever you call it, you can thank none other than Ronald Reagan for creating it.
“And you might also have Ron to thank for saving your retirement.
“In fact, thanks to what Reagan did on October 22, 1986 you might even use this technique to build a small fortune.
“This might be the best part: it’s ‘Big Oil’ that could foot the bill.
“See, it was Reagan who helped slip a special ‘loophole’ law many years ago. Surprisingly, this ‘loophole’ remains wide open today.
“And a few Americans are already using it to pile up fortunes.
“Many more have tapped it to collect up to three times as much regular income for retirement. So what exactly is a ’10-86 plan?'”
He then goes on a long spiel about how buying big oil companies can be great when prices are going up, but they suffer when prices decline … and worse, their dividend yields are minimal enough that they don’t return much cash to shareholders.
So, naturally, he’s got a better idea:
“If you draw from that energy-backed wealth anyway, doesn’t collecting triple the yields from a “10-86 plan” sound like a good idea? Of course it does.
As Smart Money puts it,
“[’10-86 gaspump payback plans’] are producing some of the best yields anywhere… some of the sharpest investors in the field are expecting double-digit total returns for some time to come.”Are you getting our free Daily Update
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“And it’s not just the bigger payouts where ’10-86 plans’ and stocks part ways.
“See, unlike regular ‘Big Oil’ dividends, these ’10-86 plans’ can help you…
“Collect energy-backed income, even if gas and oil prices crash
“How could that be?
“I’m sure you know that Big Oil companies own the gas and oil they sell. That’s one of the big reasons why they take a big hit when oil prices drop.
“But not ’10-86 plans.’
“They’re energy backed, yes. But they typically don’t own any oil or gas. Instead, what the ’10-86 plan’ operators do is get paid to move the oil and gas around the country.
“You see, ’10-86 plans’ were created to build the 385,000 mile pipeline network that flows fuel back and forth across the U.S.”
So yes, this is another pitch for pipeline companies — which in almost all cases are publicly traded master limited partnerships (MLPs), another class of investment that we see pretty heavily teased from time to time.
And yes, MLPs in their current form were signed into law under Ronald Reagan in the mid-1980s, though they had been around for a while before that — thanks to some scandals and limit-pushing they lost money for many individual investors prior to the re-regulation of MLPs in the Tax Reform Act of 1986. No, I don’t know of any “10-86” section in that Tax Reform Act that created the current crop of MLPs, but I suspect that Nelson and his copywriters pulled the “10-86” from the fact that the tax reform act was, in fact, passed into law in October … the tenth month … of 1986.
MLP investing is not without its downsides, but the basic idea is that they were set up to encourage investment in energy infrastructure, and therefore they carry some tax advantages — they distribute the vast majority of their income to unitholders as taxable personal income, and in exchange they don’t pay corporate tax. Sort of similar to the way REITs are set up to invest in real estate and pass all the income through to individual shareholders, who then inherit any tax liability for that income.
But it actually works out quite a bit better than that, tax-wise, because pipeline companies almost never actually make much money in a taxable sense — pipelines are very expensive to build and carry big depreciation charges, so if you assume that the maintenance of the pipes doesn’t actually cost nearly as much as the depreciation charges, then there’s actually a huge amount of cash flowing through that’s considered “profit” by most of these firms but is not taxable income. And by “profit” I mean “distributable cash,” which is the term most of these folks use — the money that they take in but don’t need for operations, and which can be distributed to unitholders.
So in practice, all MLPs that I’m aware of pay out way more in distributions than they earn in taxable income — which would be a red flag for a regular corporation but doesn’t necessarily indicate an unsustainable distribution for a pipeline partnership (as long as they’re not skimping on maintenance or failing to grow or upgrade their network). Those payments to unitholders have to show up in the balance sheet somewhere, so they are called “return of capital.” And return of capital does not generate a tax liability in the year that you get it, it just lowers your costs basis in the shares.
So you owe taxes on that as a capital gain when you sell, because over time it decreases your taxable cost for buying the units of the partnership and increases your capital gain on the sale of those units. I’m NOT A TAX EXPERT so take all of that with a grain of salt, but all of that is also why some investors shy away from MLPs — they are complicated, they sometimes require extensions in your tax filing as partnerhip K-1 filings sometimes come quite late, and they require good recordkeeping. But in exchange for that, you get some substantial tax advantages that you don’t get for holding an ETF or fund of MLP shares (especially, as I understand it, for estates … but I won’t go into those details here in fear of muddying the waters or giving you bad info).
Oh, and yes, as Nelson also goes into in some detail, MLPs have beaten the pants off the stock market over the last 20 years or so thanks to their generally consistent returns and the underlying assets that they own — they’re kind of like slightly sexier utility stocks. The energy infrastructure of the country is used every minute of every day, returns vary as different parts of the pipeline network get more volume with new discoveries, or as energy usage overall ebbs and flows, and regulated pipelines see varying levels of pricing control, but it’s not something that turns on a dime or suddenly starts losing money, and they exist to return cash to unitholders so the yields are almost always above average.
Of course, that means that MLPs carry some of the same sort of risks as most other income-focused investments: the share prices adjust to make the yield competitive, so with bond prices very high and bond yields very low, MLPs look awesome with a 6-7% yield … but there’s certainly some risk that if rates climb in the coming years (doesn’t seem like a big risk at the moment, but it will probably happen eventually), then MLP yields would have to climb as well to look relatively appealing to income-focused investors.
And while the income yield from MLPs typically goes up a little big every year, the only way that most of them see big adjustments to drive up their yield is by having the unit price drop.
With the Fed trying like crazy to bring down long-term rates, and with short-term rates already at zero for the next couple years, we’re promised, that’s not exactly a huge fear — and MLPs are asset-intensive, so if inflation drives up bond yields it ought also, over time, to drive up the value of the pipeline networks that MLPs mostly own, and to drive up the rates that they can charge their customers. So there is some protection from the kind of inflation that spikes bond yields and often makes other income-focused investments also drop in value.
But I’ve put the cart before the horse, no? I haven’t even told you which MLPs Nelson is teasing — and that, after all, would be the point of having a Thinkolator on standby in the first place. So … Nelson teases three different “10-86 ‘Payback’ Plan'” investments, let’s see what they are. Clues please!
“10-86 ‘Payback’ Plan” #1 In One Move, Make Shell, Exxon, and Chevron Pay You to Retire
“You could get paid to retire by ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, Marathon Oil, Shell, Dow Chemical, Spectra Energy, and more… all with one market play….
“This is a gigantic pipeline network — one of the biggest in America.
“In fact, it’s so vast, that as a partner you would share control over 50,200 miles of pipe. That’s enormous. It dominates 95% of all the fuel refining operations east of the Rocky Mountains.
“The guy who put this first cash-paying partnership together used to work oil rigs himself. But he had an idea that pipelines were the better way to get rich.
“So he got started, with just a truck and $10,000.
“But he was among the first to form a ’10-86 plan,’ thanks to the Reagan “loophole.” And he quickly became a billionaire many times over….
“What’s more, on top of the pipeline fees you could also claim partnership income from this ‘plan’s’ processing plants, fuel terminals, fuel transport barges, and tow boats. Not to mention even more income from their billions of cubic feet in natural gas storage.
“There’s still more.
“Two of this first ’10-86 plan’s’ newest pipelines tap the rich Barnett Shale fields in Texas.
“Another two of your partnership pipes run from the Piceance Basin in Colorado.
“A third runs crude oil from the Gulf of Mexico.
“And you could see the partnership add another 837 miles of gas and oil pipelines over the next two years….
“… cash payouts have gone up 36 times since 1998….
“… they’ve got $1.8 billion cash on hand.”
And apparently this one has an extra perk for unitholders:
“One special perk of this first ’10-86 plan’ is that it lets you lock in an instant 5% gain with your very first payout. And you can keep getting that gain with future checks.”
Thinkolator results? This one is Enterprise Product Partners (EPD), one of the largest MLPs and a dominant one in many ways — they do have a huge pipeline network mostly feeding from Texas and Louisiana to the Midwest and Northeast, but they also own huge storage assets, lots of processing capacity for natural gas liquids (NGLs), and other assets as teased, including barges and tow boats and the like. They’re one of the larger MLPs with a market cap of about $33 billion, and their diversified portfolio and consistently aggressive growth posture have made them an investor favorite for a while.
And the 5% discount? EPD is one of the fairly rare companies that does actually allow you to reinvest your dividends at a discount to the market price if you enroll in their Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP) — and if you intend to hold the shares for a long time and let your investment compound, that could make a huge difference over time (some brokers will enroll you in these plans, others won’t so some folks may have to enroll directly with the company and hold the shares with the transfer agent — you can see the info here).
The current yield is right at 6%, which is on the low side for the group but not dramatically so, especially considering their huge size and diversification (and there are some other growth-focused big MLPs that are even a bit lower, like OneOK — OKS — at about 5%). The closest competitor to EPD is probably the slightly smaller Kinder Morgan Partners (KMP), and each of them makes up about 10% of the ETF for Master Limited Partnerhips, the Alerian MLP ETF (AMLP).
Some more? But of course!
“10-86 ‘Payback’ Plan” #2 The Income Hedge: Big Cash Payouts Even In Down Markets
“Ten years ago, one of the world’s biggest gas and oil companies made a huge mistake. And you can use that mistake to line up a second stream of ’10-86′ income.
“What was the mistake?
“The giant oil company I’m talking about was looking to drum up cash. So they sold off their own private stake in another giant pipeline and refinery network.
“You can guess what happened next.
“A group of pipeline partners quickly seized the reins… and they’ve been piling up cash ever since. They’ve also been doling it out to any partners who signed for their ‘plan.’
“Since 2002, you could have watched the gain on the shares of this partnership skyrocket by 337%….
“… 5,400 more miles of crude oil pipeline that run through Texas, Oklahoma, and the Gulf coast….
“… 42 fuel processing terminals and a storage network for over 24 million barrels of crude.”
Into the Thinkolator go the clues, and out the other end: Sunoco Logistics (SXL)
SXL is significantly smaller than EPD, and younger — it was formed just about 10 years ago to hold Sunoco pipeline, distribution and storage assets in an MLP form, and the unit price has more than tripled since then so certainly investors have enjoyed that run.
I don’t know a lot about SXL, but they did just get put on “negative” credit watch by S&P a few weeks ago because Sunoco, which still owns about a third of SXL and operates as their General Partner, has said that they’re going to get out of the refining business … so I guess the argument is that this might hurt SXL’s volumes, since they transport a lot of refined products and crude oil for their partner and Sunoco has effective control of the MLP’s operations. I don’t know much more about it than that, but SXL has certainly been a good grower to this point and is probably priced by MLP investors to expect pretty good distribution growth with a below-average current yield of 5.5%.
“The third ’10-86 plan’ I want to show you logs in over the last 15 years with a stunning average annual gain of 27%.
“With those kinds of annual returns, you could grow $10,000 per year into over $1.57 million in just 15 years. Of course bigger accounts grow even faster.
“And just like the other two ’10-86 plans’ I showed you, this third one dominates.
“As a partner, you would own a share of the income on 24,000 miles of natural gas pipelines… another 8000 miles of gas, diesel, and jet fuel pipelines… and 2000 more miles of pipelines for shipping crude oil.
“That’s 37,000 miles of cash-generating pipelines altogether.
“Even Forbes calls this third ‘plan’ a…
“‘Steady business’ with a ‘juicy dividend.’
“Plus, you could collect on this ‘plan’s’ 400 billion cubic feet of natural gas storage…. pipelines carrying gas from Ohio to Colorado… and another that feeds gas into Chicago.
“In fact, you’ll be part owner of the largest refined fuel transportation network in America… with over two million barrels of gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, and natural gas liquids moving through the pipelines you could own every single day.”
That one, Thinkolator sez, is Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (KMP), which I mentioned above — the second biggest of the big pipeline guys, after EPD, with a market cap of about $22 billion.
And if you want that “juicy dividend” article from Forbes, it’s right here.
Hard to argue with EPD and KMP as the two biggest and most diversified MLPs, though if you’re not into the K-1 forms or the company specific research you’ll get roughly the same yield and probably similar returns from the much more diversified MLP ETF (AMLP, that is) — of course, you don’t get the reinvestment discount that you would from EPD, and you don’t get the tax benefit of sheltering most of your distribution income until you sell the shares.
I know there are a lot of ardent MLP fans (and a few foes) out there in Gumshoedom, so if you’ve got some wisdom to share on the sector or on these picks from Jim Nelson, well, lay it on us with a comment below.
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