All's Not OK with ONEOK

10/06/2010 5:08 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

As bad news goes, this isn’t a big dose, but it should be a reminder to investors looking for extra yield in today’s ultra-low-yield environment that higher yields always come with higher risk.

ONEOK Partners (NYSE: OKS) is one of my favorites for getting a good deal more yield with only slightly more risk. The master limited partnership pays a yield of 5.96% versus the 2.34% yield on the ten-year Treasury.

But “only slightly more” doesn’t mean “no more.”

On September 30, ONEOK Partners announced that it would record 2010 net income of $450 million to $470 million instead of the previously projected net income of $450 million to $490 million. The change, the partnership said, was a result of higher earnings in the natural gas pipeline segment of its business and lower earnings in the natural gas gathering and processing segment.

The critical number (since ONEOK Partners is a master limited partnership that passes along the bulk of its earnings tax-free to investors) is the 2010 distributable cash flow. That, the partnership said, would be an estimated $570 million to $590 million instead of the previous range of $580 million to $620 million.

The drop in distributable cash flow from earlier estimates isn’t going to lead to any slashing of the cash paid to investors. Master limited partnerships can keep distributions steady for some time even if cash flow hits a bump. But it does mean that the distribution to investors, which has grown by more than 6% a year over the last five years, isn’t going up much this year. The company estimates that the distribution to unit holders (since this is a master limited partnership, investors own units instead of shares) will increase by just a penny in 2010.

I don’t think this is any reason to sell. These shares are in my Dividend Income portfolio, and I’m going to keep them there. It’s not easy finding a near-6% yield in this market with “only slightly more risk.”

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any company mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio.

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