By Anna Driver
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Kevin Kaiser, a 26-year-old analyst only three years into his first job out of the Ivy League, jolted Wall Street last week with a pithy email taking aim at North America's largest oil and gas pipeline and processing company - Kinder Morgan.
The email, sent to clients of independent research firm Hedgeye Risk Management, said Kinder Morgan and its associated companies "is a house of cards, completely misunderstood and mispriced."
No specifics were provided, but the missive and his comments on Twitter spooked investors who shaved $4 billion off the company's market capitalization and sent Kinder Morgan Inc (KMI) shares down 6 percent last Wednesday.
Analysts are not certain why Kaiser's comments resonated with so many investors, but they underscore the growing influence of social media like Twitter, which can deliver investment information - accurate or not - to thousands in seconds at the push of a button.
Some compared the market to a circus. "Here is your PT Barnum people," one user tweeted as Kaiser caused a firestorm on Twitter and prompted people to question his experience.
"It seems a little surprising that enough people would be spooked by unsupported assertions," said Jason Stevens, an analyst at Morningstar.
The email titled "New Best Idea: Short Kinder Morgan," was a teaser for a report to be issued on Tuesday. No analysis was provided: only seven bullet points with topics that the report will address, including the valuation of the company's sprawling oil and gas business, which has surged as exploration companies tap into shale deposits driving a U.S. energy boom.
Kaiser declined to comment on the email. Kinder Morgan did not comment. But Rich Kinder, the billionaire former Enron executive who is chairman of Kinder Morgan, bought opportunistically on the dip.
On Monday, he purchased about $18 million of stock in Kinder Morgan Inc, according to an SEC filing.
Kinder Morgan has a complex corporate structure, which includes four publicly traded entities: Kinder Morgan Inc (KMI), Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (KMP), Kinder Morgan Management LLC (KMR) and El Paso Pipeline Partners (EPB). Combined, the companies have a market capitalization of about $90 billion.
It is made of master limited partnerships (MLPs), a structure favored by energy companies for tax efficiency and a lower cost of capital. Income is not taxed and paid out to investors, called unitholders, in the form of quarterly distributions.
WALL STREET ANALYSTS DEFEND COMPANIES
Kaiser studied economics at Princeton University and was a member of the university's hockey team. He wrote an initial report on Kinder Morgan on August 2 that questioned the company's valuation.
Wall Street sell-side analysts rushed to the company's defense, issuing notes and articles that took aim at Kaiser's credibility. The steep decline in Kinder Morgan shares is a buying opportunity, they argued.
John Edwards, energy analyst at Credit Suisse, in a note to clients on September 5 characterized Kinder Morgan as one of the most undervalued MLPs and said the company has "earned the trust of investors established over a very long period of time."
Igor Greenwald, the editor of MLP Profits, wrote a column for his clients on September 5 that characterized the sell-off as "investing at its most pathetic and absurd." He described Kaiser as "a 26-year-old man with a fancy title and very limited work experience."
The sell-off may be explained by the fact that in general, MLPs have high ownership by less sophisticated retail investors, Greenwald speculated.
"That kind of shareholding class is vulnerable to scare mongering," said Greenwald.
Kaiser may also have gained some credibility with investors by writing about accounting issues at Linn Energy LLC (LINE.O) and LinnCo (LNCO.O). Linn Energy said on July 2 that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had launched an informal inquiry into accounting issues and its proposed purchase of Berry Petroleum Co (BRY).
"Perhaps because he tilted his lance at Linn, with some results, you've got people who are in the stock and want to get out," Morningstar analyst Stevens said.
(Reporting by Anna Driver; Editing by Terry Wade and Richard Chang)