Roger S. Conrad needs no introduction to individual and professional investors, many of whom have profited from his decades of experience uncovering the best dividend-paying stocks for accumulating sustainable wealth.
Roger built his reputation with Utility Forecaster, a publication he founded more than 20 years ago that The Hulbert Financial Digest routinely ranked as one of the best investment newsletters. He’s also a sought-after expert on master limited partnerships (MLP) and former Canadian royalty trusts.
In April 2013, Roger reunited with his long-time friend and colleague, Elliott Gue, becoming co-editor of Energy & Income Advisor, a semimonthly online newsletter that’s dedicated to uncovering the most profitable opportunities in the energy sector.
Although the masthead may have changed, readers can count on Roger to deliver the same high-quality analysis and rational assessment of the best dividend-paying utilities, MLPs and dividend-paying Canadian energy names.
It’s fair to say Conservative Holding TC Energy (TSX: TRP, NYSE: TRP) faced a mountain of skepticism from investors last year. That started with significant cost overruns announced at the Coastal GasLink pipeline in late 2022. Many doubted the company would ever finish the project, or execute on funding the additional costs with CAD5 billion of asset sales. And even more have dismissed the planned spinoff of oil pipeline assets as caving into ESG pressures.
Calendar year 2023 is in the books. Our Aggressive Holdings managed a 9 percent average return. Conservative Holdings dropped -2.6 percent and the Top 10 DRIPs lost -1.9 percent. Those returns compare to a -5.2 percent decline in the Dow Jones Utility Average. Other indexes relevant to portfolio holdings include the Alerian MLP Index (up 25.4 percent), iShares Select Dividend ETF (up 1 percent), the Nasdaq Clean Energy Index (-9.8 percent) the S&P Energy Index (-1.4 percent) and the S&P Telecom Services Index (up 2.7 percent).
Six companies in the Utility Report Card coverage universe cut dividends in 2023. That’s been about the average count for most years since the mid-1980s, when I began tracking utilities and essential services stocks. But having so few last year was quite a demonstration of sector resilience.
Cutting debt, strategic M&A and regulatory breakthroughs were “in” last year. High levels of debt and renewable energy were “out.” That’s the verdict of my annual roundup of utility and essential services company returns, highlighted in this month’s Utility Report Card. Divergence between individual companies in 2023 was roughly the same as in 2022, with 216.2 percentage points separating the top and bottom of my table “Best and Worst of 2023” versus 206.6 a year ago. And thanks to a pair of massive sector out-performances, my 2023 picks narrowly edged the pans—with both groups topping the Dow Jones Utility Average by more than 20 percentage points.
There’s just three weeks left until New Year’s Eve. And the Dow Jones Utility Average is still down –6.2 percent in 2023. That leaves the sector on track for its worst performance since 2008, barring a powerful end-year rally,—though that year’s -27.8 percent demolishing is in a whole different league.
Since early October, however, the DJUA is up 11.5 percent, topping even the robust returns from the S&P 500 and the big technology stock Nasdaq 100. And the biggest winners the past two months have been the stocks that were beaten up the most through September, for example AES Corp (NYSE: AES) with an 60 percent-plus return.
My view: We’re in the early stages of a utility sector re-rating and stock price recovery.
UK electric utility SSE Plc (London: SSE, OTC: SSEZY) has “rebased” its twice-annual dividend to a new rate of 60 pence, starting with the March 2024 payment. That’s roughly -38 percent less than the previous annualized rate of 96.7 pence. As noted in my Utility Report Card comments, management stuck to its previous full-year FY2024 (end March 31) earnings guidance range, with a mid-point of GBP1.50 per share. That was despite what appeared to be disappointing results for the first half (end September 30), as adjusted EPS sank by roughly -11 percent.
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Roger's current take and vital statistics on more than 200 essential-services stocks.