MLPs: The New Rage in Offshore Drilling

MLPs: The New Rage in Offshore Drilling

The master limited partnership, or MLP, structure has been popular in the energy pipeline and drilling business for years and is making its way to the offshore drilling business as well. A little more than a year ago, Seadrill spun off Seadrill Partners, an MLP that took on drilling rigs.

Early on, Seadrill Partners only owned two semisubmersible rigs, one drillship, and one tender rig. Since then, two more tender rigs have been added to the MLPs assets and more will be pushed down in years go come.

The energy industry prefers the MLP structure because companies can avoid paying taxes, instead passing distributable cash flow on to investors. This also gives investors looking for income an attractive way to play the drilling business.

Today we learned Seadrill will likely get a new competitor in the MLP business.

Transocean eyes an MLP
Activist investor Carl Icahn has been pushing driller Transocean to not only return more capital to shareholders, but also adjust its structure to include an MLP. The company said today it agreed to do both and will spin off an MLP in mid-2014.

We don't know exactly what assets Transocean will push down to its MLP but this will give investors another investing option in drilling.

More to come?
We haven't heard from other drillers like Noble, Diamond Offshore, or Ensco, but I wouldn't be surprised to see more MLPs hit the market in coming years. The structure would allow offshore drilling companies to expand more quickly by tapping new shareholders. With focused assets, they often come with a lower cost of capital as well.

Until more MLPs come public there are still great dividend options in the drilling business. Seadrill pays a hefty 7.9% dividend to investors, and after upping its dividend to $3 per share today Transocean now yields 5.4%.

Seadrill's majority-owned North Atlantic Drilling will also hit the market soon, filing for an IPO just this morning. If it's anything like its parent the company will come with a big payout for investors looking for a harsh environment drilling investment.

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Fool contributor Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of Seadrill. The Motley Fool recommends Seadrill. The Motley Fool owns shares of Seadrill and Transocean. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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