DEEP DIVE © iStockphotoUtility stocks have lagged behind the broader market this year, despite attractive yields in a low interest-rate environment.
Utility stocks are being left behind as equity indexes have risen to records and bond yields have sunk to all-time lows. But if you are looking for income, you need to consider utility stocks.
The S&P 500 Index has rebounded from the Covid crisis, gaining 5% this year. Still, only 44% of S&P 500 stocks are up this year, most notably Apple Inc. (AAPL) Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and other technology stocks. The benchmark index's utilities sector was down 7%.
On Wednesday, Mark Grant, chief global strategist for fixed income at B. Riley FBR, pointed out in his "Out of the Box" email that "there is almost no value for the credit risk in corporate bonds." The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index of corporate bonds has a yield-to-maturity of 1.17%, with an effective duration of 6.2 years. That yield compares to 0.46% for seven-year U.S. Treasury notes.
At Franklin Templeton's "Mega Trends Accelerate" webinar Tuesday, Scott Glasser, co-chief investment officer at ClearBridge Investments, said he expected cloud and media companies to continue to perform well, but also suggested cyclical stocks would help balance out the tech exposure.
He expects that over the next few years, "forgotten groups" of stocks, including utilities, will come back into play." Glasser cited "the appeal of a 3.5% to 4% dividend yield that is pretty secure." There are 16 utility stocks listed below with yields of at least 3.5%, ranging as high as 5.99%.
It's easy to understand why prices for most higher-yielding asset classes have increased this year. The Federal Reserve's bond buying (currently $150 billion a month) has tamped down long-term interest rates, while short-term rates are near zero, along with the federal funds rate. On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank was "determined" to continue its "highly accommodative" policy until inflation rises to a consistent level of about 2%.
The Federal Open Market Committee released median projections Wednesday showing that inflation is expected to remain at or below 2% through 2023. That indicates no change in the central bank's core policies for years.
Getting back to utility stocks, they are not only down - many have attractive yields, with long track records for sustaining or raising their payouts.
Among the 28 utility stocks currently included in the S&P 500, only seven have cut their dividend payouts over the past 15 years, according to data supplied by FactSet. And two of those dividend cuts resulted from spin-offs of large business units. The most recent dividend cut was by CenterPoint Energy Inc. (CNP) in April, when the company cut its payout nearly in half and lowered its capital expenditures because of a dividend reduction by Enable Midstream Partners LP (ENBL) CenterPoint owns a majority of Enable's shares.
Aside from CenterPoint, none of the S&P 500 utility companies have cut dividend payments since 2016. PG&E Corp. (PCG) the California electric utility that went bankrupt in January 2019, was removed from the index at that time. The company emerged from bankruptcy in July.
Here are all 28 utility stocks in the S&P 500, sorted by yield, with indications of any dividend cuts over the past 15 years. The "dividend comment" column also includes the year the dividend was initiated, unless the company has been paying for at least 15 years. Scroll the table at the bottom, to the right, to see all the information:
|Company ||Ticker ||Dividend yield ||Dividend cut over past 15 years? ||Dividend comment ||Total return - 2020 (through Sept. 15) |
|PPL Corp. || (PPL) ||5.99% ||No ||-19% |
|FirstEnergy Corp. || (FE) ||5.32% ||Yes ||Dividend cut in January 2014. ||-38% |
|Edison International || (EIX) ||4.95% ||No ||-30% |
|Southern Co. || (SO) ||4.83% ||No ||-14% |
|Dominion Energy Inc. || (D) ||4.65% ||No ||1% |
|Duke Energy Corp. || (DUK) ||4.57% ||Yes ||Dividend cut in January 2017, when natural gas unit Spectra Energy was spun off. ||-4% |
|Pinnacle West Capital Corp. || (PNW) ||4.35% ||No ||-18% |
|Exelon Corp. || (EXC) ||4.23% ||Yes ||Dividend cut in February 2013. ||-18% |
|Consolidated Edison Inc. || (ED) ||4.11% ||No ||-15% |
|NRG Energy Inc. || (NRG) ||3.92% ||Yes ||Dividend cut in February 2016. ||-21% |
|Evergy Inc. || (EVRG) ||3.86% ||No ||-17% |
|Entergy Corp. || (ETR) ||3.85% ||No ||-17% |
|NiSource Inc || (NI) ||3.80% ||Yes ||Dividend cut in 2015, when the company separated its natural gas pipeline business. ||-19% |
|Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. || (PEG) ||3.79% ||No ||-10% |
|Sempra Energy || (SRE) ||3.55% ||No ||-21% |
|American Electric Power Co. Inc. || (AEP) ||3.50% ||No ||-13% |
|DTE Energy Co. || (DTE) ||3.42% ||No ||-7% |
|AES Corp. || (AES) ||3.22% ||No ||Initiated dividend in 2013. ||-8% |
|CenterPoint Energy Inc. || (CNP) ||3.16% ||Yes ||Dividend cut in April 2020. ||-28% |
|Alliant Energy Corp. || (LNT) ||2.88% ||No ||-2% |
|Eversource Energy || (ES) ||2.70% ||No ||0% |
|CMS Energy Corp. || (CMS) ||2.67% ||No ||Initiated dividend in 2007. ||-1% |
|Ameren Corp. || (AEE) ||2.55% ||Yes ||Dividend cut in February 2009. ||3% |
|WEC Energy Group Inc. || (WEC) ||2.55% ||No ||10% |
|Atmos Energy Corp. || (ATO) ||2.49% ||No ||-16% |
|Xcel Energy Inc. || (XEL) ||2.44% ||No ||13% |
|NextEra Energy Inc. || (NEE) ||1.89% ||No ||24% |
|American Water Works Co. Inc. || (AWK) ||1.53% ||No ||Initiated dividend in 2008. ||18% |
|Source: FactSet |
You can click on the tickers for more information about each company, including business profiles, ratings and price targets.
There are several different ways to invest in utilities as a group, through exchange traded funds:
. The Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLU) is the largest, with $11.7 billion in assets. It is weighted by market capitalization, which means competing ETFs "offer broader exposure to the full market-cap spectrum," according to FactSet. The ETF has annual expenses of 0.13% of assets and a dividend distribution yield of 3.25%. The yields listed here are according to FactSet and net of expenses.
. The Vanguard Utilities ETF (VPU) has nearly $4 billion in assets and is FactSet's "analyst pick" in the space, because of its broad exposure to utility companies of various sizes and its low expense ratio of 0.10%. The ETF's distribution yield is 3.99%.
. The Fidelity MSCI Utilties Index ETF (FUTY) is described by FactSet as "a direct competitor to Vanguard's similarly inexpensive VPU." FUTY has an expense ratio of 0.08% and a yield of 3.25%
. The Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight Utilities ETF (RYU) avoids some of the concentration risk of the cap-weighted ETFs. It has annual expenses of 0.40% and a yield of 2.99%. Unlike the other ETFs listed above, this one includes telecommunications stocks.
The iShares U.S. Utilities ETF (IDU) is another cap-weighted diversified ETF, with annual expenses of 0.43% and a yield of 2.94%.
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