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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Master Limited Partnership (Part I)

By Ahmad Hassam

Many analysts are of the opinion that commodity investing maybe the best investments in the early part of the 21st century. Take the name of oil, oil is the most heavily traded commodity in the world right now. Gold is another commodity that is reaching record price levels. Gold prices for the first time have breached the unheard of $1000 per ounce barrier. Investing in commodities may be the something that investors thought of boring and dull only a few decades back but not anymore now. If you are interested in investing in companies that are involved in the production, transformation and distribution of commodities, than one of the best ways to do so is through investing in the Master Limited Partnership (MLP).

So how do you go about investing in an MLP? The shares that an MLP issues are called Units and the investors who own them are known as Unit Holders. MLPs are public entities that trade on public exchanges. An MLP issues shares that trade on an exchange just like a company stocks that trades on an exchange. You can invest in an MLP by buying its shares on an exchange. You can instruct your broker to buy the units of an MLP that you are interested in investing.

Right now there are not many MLPs in the market. You will only find 3-4 dozen MLPs listed in the different stock exchanges. When you invest in an MLP, you are essentially investing in public partnership. There are tax advantages to investing in MLP. Unlike regular corporations, an MLP is only taxed once. Now most of the MLPs trade on the New York Stock Exchange. A few MLPs also trade on the NASDAQ and the AMEX. Tax exemption on MLPs gives them certain benefits that other companies in the same industry lack. There is a tax exemption on MLPs. You must be curious how this tax advantage works out. Because of

There is a tax exemption on MLPs. You must be curious how this tax advantage works out. Because of Congressional Legislation, any MLP that derives 90% or more of its income from the production, distribution and transformation of commodities qualifies for this tax exempt scheme.

Since an MLP has got the tax exempt status it will only have to generate only $1.54 for each dollar that you invest in it. Suppose you invest $1 in the stocks of a regular corporation and you are in the 35% tax bracket. Corporate tax is 30% of its before tax income. This means that for each dollar that you invest you need to get at least $1/ (1-0.35) =$1.54 just in order to breakeven. So the corporation will have to generate $1.54/ (1-0.3) =$2.2 for each dollar that you invest in order to return you $1 after tax profit. In most cases, the majority of these GPs in MLPs are other corporate entities setup with the specific purpose of running an MLP. This tax advantage gives an MLP competitive advantage as compared to other corporations when competing for assets. This means a huge advantage for an MLP. Now an MLP is run by a General Partner (GP).

The role of a GP is very important in an MLP. You as an investor in the assets of MLP might have a very limited role or say in its running. You can think of yourself as a sleeping partner in the MLP. In most cases, the majority of these GPs in MLPs are other corporate entities setup with the specific purpose of running an MLP. This tax advantage gives an MLP competitive advantage as compared to other corporations when competing for assets. This means a huge advantage for an MLP. Now an MLP is run by a General Partner (GP). But you don't have to worry much about the GP. Most GPs do a good job of running the MLP as it is in their financial interests. GPs know that if they don't make sound management and investment decisions, most of the investors my eventually deicide to divest themselves from the units of the MLP. Now you must know as a limited partner in an MLP, you have limited voting rights. This means when you invest in an MLP, you are giving away the keys of ownership to the GP. This means you are out of the decision making in an MLP.

An MLP is obligated to distribute all available cash back to its unit holders on a quarterly basis, so you will be getting a quarterly income from your units. Secondly as the MLP expands and grows overtime, its units may give you capital gain as well. Investing in MLP units can give you quarterly cash flows as well as appreciation of the unit price. However, always do your due diligence when you want to invest in an MLP. - 23208

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