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Now more than ever, it’s a stock picker’s market for utilities and essential services.

Last month, the Dow Jones Utility Average basically ran in place. But top-performer AES Corp (NYSE: AES) returned 10 percent, while the biggest loser Public Service Enterprise Group (NYSE: PEG) shed 5 percent.

The difference maker was investor expectations. AES beat a relatively low bar with third quarter earnings and updated guidance. Public Service failed a somewhat higher one, despite another solid performance at its core New Jersey utility.

AES is also a leading global adopter of renewable energy technology, including battery storage. And its 90 percent two-year total return—70 points better than the DJUA—was in large part simply closing the gap with sector leaders like NextEra Energy (NYSE: NEE).

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