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.
Algonquin Power & Utilities (TSX: AQN, NYSE: AQN) will update strategy on January 12 with an “Investor Update Call.” One potential course of action: The sale of its 42.49 percent interest in Aggressive Holding Atlantica Yield (NSDQ: AY). Expectations were high when Algonquin purchased ownership in the yieldco from its initial parent, bankrupt Spanish engineering firm Abengoa SA. And while the pace of drop downs to fuel growth has been tepid, the association has been positive for both sides—Atlantica’s dividend is now 6 percent higher than in December 2015, when it suspended its payout to deal with Abengoa’s cross-defaults.
Investors hate uncertainty. So it’s understandable that Dominion Energy (NYSE: D) shares sold off in early November, when the company replaced its CFO and announced a “top to bottom” strategic review. CEO Bob Blue stated the company would pursue “value-maximizing” actions, including “alternatives to our current business mix and capital allocation.” Dominion shares, however, now arguably price in the opposite: A cut in 6 percent annual earnings and dividend growth guidance to low single digits or worse.
Exactly half of our portfolio stocks posted positive total returns in 2022 and half negative. That matches up pretty well with the mostly neutral returns posted by our Aggressive Holdings (up 3.5 percent), Conservative Holdings (up 1.3 percent) and Top 10 DRIPs (up 9.5 percent). It’s also right there with the Dow Jones Utility Average’s 2.08 percent total return for the year. But the overall numbers do mask some pretty massive divergence among individual holdings. The biggest is the 156.5 percentage point difference in performance between our best stock Constellation Energy (NYSE: CEG) and our worst Algonquin Power & Utilities (TSX: AQN, NYSE: AQN).
We won’t have to wait long to hear Algonquin Power & Utilities’ (TSX: AQN, NYSE: AQN) plan for its dividend this year. The company’s Investor Call on January 12 will likely include revised guidance along with plans to corral debt and the Kentucky Power acquisition from American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP)—now blocked by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Shares are pricing in a dividend cut of at least one-third. What management decides will likely depend on how fast it wants to reduce roughly $3.4 billion in variable rate debt, and whether it walks away from Kentucky Power.
The Dow Jones Utility Average outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 20 percentage points in 2022. And it did so despite the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rising from barely 1.5 percent to nearly 4 percent—no doubt baffling investors who consider utilities “bond alternatives.” As my table “Best and Worst of 2022” makes clear, however, there were some pretty dramatic divergences of share price performance inside the headline numbers. That’s clear from the 206.6 percentage point difference between the top and bottom performer of my Conrad’s Utility Investor coverage universe. And even a brief glance at this month’s Utility Report Card comments shows total returns are all over the map for the rest as well.
There are just three trading days to go in 2022. And barring a real last minute tsunami, this year will go down as a decidedly flat overall for the Conrad’s Utility Investor portfolios and Utility Report Card coverage universe.
Sticking to long-term guidance in face of severe near-term headwinds: That’s the difference maker for investor returns in utilities and essential services stocks this year. And it’s certain to be once again in 2023.
The greatest challenge is the most dramatic increase in interest rates since the 1980s. Debt is an indispensable pillar of financing for capital-intensive sectors like power, communications and water. And even solidly investment grade companies like WEC Energy (NYSE: WEC) have seen their cost of short-term debt increase as much as 350 basis points since the beginning of the year.
Europe’s unfolding energy crisis, rising interest rates and a heavy debt load: That accounts for elevated investor skepticism this year that Italy-based Enel SpA (Italy: ENEL, OTC: ENLAY) can hold to guidance of 10 to 13 percent earnings growth or even its generous dividend.
Being the first mover in a new technology means taking risks later adopters don’t. And Conservative Holding Southern Company (NYSE: SO) felt the pain of a $6 billion write off when its once-promising clean coal project in Mississippi failed in the previous decade.
Roger's favorite utilities for investors seeking superior price appreciation by taking calculated risks.
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Roger's current take and vital statistics on more than 200 essential-services stocks.