Master limited partnership MLP
Definition of 'Master limited partnership MLP'
Hollywood movie stars have a "cult" like following of MLP investments and this has become almost as popular as investing in new restaurants for them.
MLPs are limited by United States Code to only apply to enterprises that engage in certain businesses, mostly pertaining to the use of natural resources, such as petroleum and natural gas extraction and transportation. To qualify for MLP status, a partnership must generate at least 90 percent of its income from what the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) deems "qualifying" sources. For many MLPs, these include all manner of activities related to the production, processing or transportation of oil, natural gas and coal.
Some real estate enterprises qualify for a similar tax treatment as a real estate investment trust. Other publicly traded partnerships, such as Blackstone Group or Cedar Fair, do not qualify for pass-thru tax status and must pay federal corporate income taxes.
In practice, MLPs pay their investors through quarterly required distributions, the amount of which is stated in the contract between the limited partners (the investors) and the general partner (the managers or GP). Typically, the higher the quarterly distributions paid to limited partners, the higher the management fee paid to the general partner. This provides the general partner with an incentive to maximize distributions through pursuing income-accretive acquisitions and organic growth projects. Failure to pay the quarterly required distributions may constitute an event of default.
Because MLPs are classified as partnerships, they avoid corporate income tax at both a state and federal levels. Additionally, limited partners may also record a pro-rated share of the MLP's depreciation on their own tax forms to reduce liability. This is the primary benefit of MLPs and gives MLPs relatively cheap funding.
The tax implications of MLPs for individual investors are complex. While distributions from MLPs are taxed at the marginal rate of the limited partner, there may be no tax advantage to claiming the pro-rated share of the MLP's depreciation when the investments is held in a tax deferred account. To encourage tax-deferred investors, many MLPs set up corporation holding companies of limited partner claims which can issue common equity.
A general partner in an MLP often begins with a small stake of about 2% in the partnership, but is given incentive distributions from net income after the quarterly required distributions. Since these distributions are usually paid in the form of increased equity claims the general partner may attain an increased share of the partnership's ownership.
In May 2010, the first ever MLP mutual fund was launched, with a stated goal of providing "a high level of inflation-protected income currently through a 7.8 percent distribution yield, which is higher than equity alternatives such as REITs and Utilities." The fund is a part of the SteelPath Mutual Fund Family (now OppenheimerFunds).
On August 25, 2010, the first MLP exchange traded fund (ETF) was launched by Alerian, the company that manages the benchmark MLP index (NYSE: ^AMZ). This fund was similarly designed to the above mentioned mutual fund in that it avails a new level of diversification to investors and, according to Alerian President Kenny Feng, "provides a single Form 1099, no K-1s, and allows investors to potentially benefit from return of capital and qualified dividend tax treatment of distributions." The fund is known as the Alerian MLP ETF (NYSE: AMLP).
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