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Kinder Morgan Inc. (KMI - Analyst Report) reported first quarter 2012 earnings of 21 cents a share from continuing operations, failing to meet the Zacks Consensus of 29 cents a share. However, quarterly earnings almost doubled from the year-earlier profit level of 11 cents.

Total revenue in the quarter dropped almost 4% year over year to $1,857 million. The reported figure also failed to reach to our expectation of $2,319.0 million.

Dividend

Kinder Morgan boosted its quarterly dividend to 32 cents a share, which is a 10% increase over 29 cents announced at the time when the company went public in February 2011. The declared dividend is equivalent to an annual dividend rate of $1.28 per share and the company expects it to be $1.35 per share in 2012.

The growth of the company is driven by its limited partners unit, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P. (KMP - Analyst Report), which expects to declare cash distributions of $4.98 per unit for 2012, an 8% increase over $4.61 per unit for 2011. KMP contributes approximately 99% to the distributions KMI currently receives on the back of its stable and incremental cash flow from diversified assets in virtually all types of market conditions.

Operational Highlights

Total expenses stood at $1,341 million, representing a 14.4% decrease from $1,567 million registered in the first quarter of 2011.

Operating income came in at $516 million in the quarter, representing an impressive 41.4% increment over the same quarter a year ago. Operating margin was 27.8% in the first quarter compared with 18.9% in the year-ago quarter.

Financials

Cash available to pay dividends was $303 million in the first quarter of 2012, an increase of 14% from $267 million in the comparable period. This also came in slightly ahead of the company’s published annual budget.

Our Take

We maintain our Neutral recommendation for Kinder Morgan Inc. − one of the largest midstream energy companies in North America.

We believe Kinder Morgan will be able to seize attractive investment opportunities in the near term, particularly in the Eagle Ford and Haynesville shale plays. The company had an impressive first quarter 2012 on an annualized basis, and continues to profit from the performance of its publicly traded limited partnership, KMP. The partnership contributes approximately 99% to the distributions KMI currently receives on the back of its stable and incremental cash flow from diversified assets in virtually all types of market conditions.

Importantly, the proposed Kinder Morgan-El Paso deal, one of the largest energy transactions in recent years, is expected to be immediately accretive to Kinder Morgan’s earnings and generate $350 million a year in cost savings, or about 5% of the combined companies' earnings before interest taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Again, the company expects a boost in its dividend payments upon closure of the Kinder Morgan-El Paso merger. Kinder Morgan expects its annual dividend to increase 12.5% through 2015.

KMI is a holding company of the KMP general partnership interest. Therefore, its risks reflect that of the parent operating unit. The unpredictability of KMP'S cash flows mainly stem from its CO2 segment, which contributes more than one-third of the partnership’s total cash flow and is expected to fluctuate with crude oil prices in the long term. Sustaining crude oil production in this segment involves a considerable amount of capital. This could impede KMP’s distribution growth in the event of faster-than-expected production decline or a rise in service costs.

Additionally, the company’s results are vulnerable to fluctuations in natural gas markets. The ongoing liquid-rich drilling activities by the company clearly indicate that low natural gas prices are not likely to go up in the near term.

Hence, we see Kinder Morgan performing in line with the broader market. The company holds a Zacks #3 Rank, which is equivalent to a short-term Hold rating.

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