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MLP ETFs as a Defensive Energy Sector Play

This article was originally published on ETFTrends.com.

The recent fall off in crude oil prices has dragged energy sector stocks down as well. However, master limited partnerships and related exchange traded funds were better off in the energy space.

Last month, West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices declined over 20% while the Alerian MLP Index was down 2.2% on a price-return basis and less than 1% on a total-return basis and the Alerian Midstream Energy Select Index was up 0.5% on a total return basis, according to Alerian.

"Taking into account the ~30% decline in oil prices over the last two months, we would argue that midstream is performing in line with its defensive nature," according to Alerian.

WTI crude hit above $76 per barrel on October 3 and has since declined more than 30% through November 30, dragging down energy stocks along the way. Meanwhile, while the midstream space has been negatively impacted, this segment of the energy sector is holding up much better than its the integrated energy counterparts.

Looking beyond the price performance of these energy sub-sectors Setting aside price performance, the Alerian MLP Index and the Alerian Midstream Energy Select have produced attractive yield returns for investors, was generating a 8.3% and 6.4% yield, respectively, as of November 30.

"We would expect midstream to be more defensive in a falling price environment, and that is holding true," according to Alerian.

"MLPs and midstream are more defensive by nature of their fee-based business models, but other factors have been supportive as well. Record high (and growing) US oil and natural gas production is positive for the space as largely volume-driven businesses," Alerian added.

Investors who are interested in gaining exposure to the MLP and midstream segments may look to ETFs, such as the ALPS Alerian MLP ETF (AMLP) , the largest and most liquid MLP-related ETF on the market, and the Alerian Energy Infrastructure ETF (ENFR) .

AMLP provides diversified, transparent exposure to a basket of infrastructure MLPs and provides yields in the 6% to 8% range on a consistent basis.

ENFR acts as a type of hybrid energy infrastructure ETF, which could help investors capture some of the high yields from MLPs but limits the tax hit from solely owning MLPs.

"Midstream is more defensive than other sectors of energy because cash flows are largely fee-based and thus more insulated from moves in commodity prices. While any negative performance is understandably frustrating for investors, midstream is performing as one would reasonably expect given the ~30% decline in oil prices since early October. Oil price weakness is a risk, but midstream is still the defensive place to invest in energy against the backdrop of a tough oil tape," according to Alerian.

For more information on master limited partnerships, visit our MLPs category.

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