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Executive Summary

Utility Stocks Hold the Line, But Beware High Valuations!

By Roger S. Conrad on Dec. 10, 2018

So far in fourth quarter 2018, the Dow Jones Utility Average has returned 5.4 percent. That’s against a -9.3 percent loss by the S&P 500. Utilities are also now well ahead for the full year, after lagging behind for most of it.

I’m not surprised money is flowing into essential service companies, given the level of investor fear of a potential recession, bear market and US/China trade war. And utilities’ strong third quarter results, which I again highlight in the Utility Report Card, confirm their businesses will hold up again if the worst does happen.

On the other hand, this is a world where stock market ownership has been increasingly concentrated into fewer hands. In this case, it’s giant exchange traded funds that are managed by passive strategies, governed by what appear to be remarkably similar algorithms.

That means a lot of money moves in a hurry, and not always for good reason. Favorite stocks like NextEra Energy (NYSE: NEE), for example, have been driven relentlessly higher to nosebleed valuations. Meanwhile, “risk off” moves have tanked most high yielders, most recently Amerigas Partners (NYSE: APU).

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