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Executive Summary

Tipping Point

By Roger S. Conrad on Jul. 9, 2017

Through the end of the second quarter, more than half the roughly 200 companies covered in our Utility Report Card increased their dividends at least once. Fifteen cut their payouts over this period. About three-quarters of our coverage universe are in the black this year.

Lofty valuations on last year’s winners make it much harder for even the strongest names to make significant headway this year—a reason for investors to stay disciplined and stick to our value-based buy targets.

The Dow Jones Utility Average historically has struggled to trade at these elevated levels without suffering a reversion to the mean. Whether the benchmark index’s 5 percent decline from its June high marks a real tipping point remains to be seen, though the recent action bears a strong resemblance to the selloff that occurred last summer.

Meanwhile, another tipping point for electric utilities has appeared on the horizon: Recent trends suggest that over the coming decade, unsubsidized solar- and wind-power projects will be able to compete on cost with existing coal- and gas-fired power plants.

This topic figured prominently at a launch event for Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s recently published energy outlook and at the Energy Information Administration’s annual conference. I attended both and share some of my top takeaways in this issue.

Although investors should always view long-term forecasts with skepticism, electric utilities’ investment plans and strategic decisions suggest that the rise of renewable energy could be a real profit driver for the sector, especially when paired with efficiency initiatives.

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