US crude oil prices
NYMEX near-month WTI (West Texas Intermediate) crude oil futures prices rose 1.6% in the week ending April 15, 2016. WTI crude oil prices closed at $40.4 per barrel on April 15—compared to $39.7 per barrel for the week ending April 8, 2016.
In comparison, Brent oil first-line futures prices rose 2.8% to $43.1 per barrel in the week ending April 15 from $41.9 at the end of the previous week. This caused the WTI-Brent spread to widen.
Crude oil prices impact MLPs
US crude oil prices impact energy MLPs differently. While upstream companies are impacted directly by fluctuations in crude oil prices, the impact on midstream MLPs is more indirect. However, a few midstream companies such as Kinder Morgan (KMI) also have direct crude oil exposure.
A widening of the WTI-Brent spread tends to hurt upstream MLPs such as Memorial Production Partners (MEMP), Vanguard Natural Resources (VNR), EV Energy Partners (EVEP), and Atlas Resource Partners (ARP).
On the other hand, refining companies’ margins are expected to rise as the spread increases. The above graph shows the weekly movements in crude oil futures prices over six weeks.
In its Annual Energy Outlook 2015, the EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration) predicted that US crude oil production would rise until 2020. Pipeline MLPs such as Plains All American Pipeline (PAA) should benefit from this expected growth. Plains All American forms ~0.13% of the PowerShares Dividend Achievers Portfolio (PFM).
In its STEO (Short-Term Energy Outlook) report released on April 12, 2016, the EIA estimated that WTI crude oil prices would average $34.6 per barrel in 2016 and $40.6 per barrel in 2017. On average, Brent oil prices are expected to remain the same as WTI in both years. The STEO might concern MLPs with higher crude oil assumption for 2016 financial guidance.