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Executive Summary

Built to Last

By Roger S. Conrad on May. 11, 2015

The price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil has rebounded roughly 40 percent from its mid-March low.

Meanwhile, natural gas fetches about half what it did a year ago. And natural-gas prices are even lower in Pennsylvania, where surging production from the Marcellus Shale has overwhelmed local demand and existing takeaway capacity.

Depressed natural-gas prices weigh heavily on the spot price of wholesale electricity, putting pressure on power companies that don’t sell their output under long-term agreements or face impending contract expirations.

Smaller telecom providers have also suffered margin compression in an increasingly saturated and competitive market.

Throw in economic troubles in Brazil and other international markets, and you’ve got a lot of headwinds facing the more than 200 essential-services companies covered in our Utility Report Card.

Nevertheless, of the 193 companies that have reported results thus far, only four disappointed to such an extent that management trimmed their full-year guidance for revenue or earnings.

Of course, these ranks will grow over the course of the year, as management teams rethink their projections. Businesses with the most exposure to commodity prices face the most risk.

Still, the resilience demonstrated by the companies in our coverage universe represents a big part of the appeal of investing in essential-services companies.

And after more than a decade of reducing debt and de-risking operations, the utility sector finds itself in its best shape ever.

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