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Executive Summary

A High Bar of Expectations

By Roger S. Conrad on Jun. 12, 2016

The Dow Jones Utilities Average finished the week at a record high and the index’s price-to-earnings ratio has blown out to levels last seen in early 2008.

Although this froth in the market increases the bar of expectations for utility stocks and heightens the risk of a pullback, our favorite utilities enjoy ready access to low-cost capital and ample opportunity to grow their rate base through investments in renewable energy, pipelines and gas-fired power plants.

The recent momentum driving utility stocks higher reflects concerns about the US economy and the market’s growing realization that the Federal Reserve will struggle to raise interest rates this year. In this environment, investors gravitate toward utilities’ resilient cash flow and above-average dividend yields.

Whereas reliable earnings are enduring features of regulated utilities, the influx of capital driving these stocks to new highs rests on something far more fickle: investor sentiment. When momentum investors find an excuse to take profits off the table, the sector will take a hit, regardless of underlying fundamentals.

In this environment, investors should take advantage of the rally to exit riskier names, take some profits off the table in their winners (14 Portfolio holdings trade above our buy targets) and assemble a shopping list of stocks to buy when the inevitable pullback occurs.

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