A challenging year brings a change in the rankings.
(September 2012) Our annual financial ranking shows some remarkable shifts among the industry’s shareholder value leaders. Despite flat demand and low commodity prices, investor-owned utilities are investing heavily in capital assets. Investment discipline and operational excellence distinguish leaders on the path to financial performance.
(September 2011) Our annual ranking tracks the publicly traded electric and gas companies that produce the greatest value for shareholders. Despite the year’s topsy-turvy financial markets, perennial performers like DPL, PPL and Exelon return to the top of the list. Others face looming cap-ex burdens as regulators impose new mandates and requirements. Leading companies are positioning for growth, despite a challenging landscape.
Does slow and steady still win the race?
Michael T. Burr, Editor-in-Chief
When a capital-intensive industry enters an asset-building cycle, many companies will operate in the red for a few years or more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as cap-ex investments represent growth for shareholders. The devil is in the details, however, and companies facing a large slug of environmental compliance investments might produce disappointing returns over the next few years.
Rational estimates lead to reasonable valuations.
When regulators grant changes to utility rates of return, they estimate growth on the basis of gross domestic product (GDP). But do utilities have any chance of growing at the same pace as GDP? The answer is no — with huge consequences for utilities and their consumers. With equity costs outpacing allowed rates of return, utilities aren’t being valued correctly. As a result, the industry risks falling behind other sectors in terms of infrastructure investments and technology innovation.
Cap-ex plans raise the stakes for utility mergers.
Kevin C. Fitzgerald and Christopher R. Jones
Investors historically have been skeptical about merger synergies in utility mergers, assuming that regulators will insist that most or all economic benefits flow to customers. However, recent transactions suggest utilities are taking a different approach to valuing synergies that might strengthen the case for mergers — not just for the merging parties, but also for investors and regulators.
Volatile economic conditions push regulators in new directions.
Regulators are in the unenviable position of determining an allowance for ROE that’s fair to consumers and investors in a volatile economy. The cases that stand out this year are those in which regulators explored the limits of their discretion.
The capital markets have recovered … or have they?
One year ago, in the midst of the financial crisis, one industry—energy utilities—continued accessing the capital markets. Since then, interest rates and terms have improved dramatically, inviting utilities to refinance billions of dollars in debt that won’t mature for another year. Despite the current rosy picture, however, economic trends might cast a shadow over the industry’s capital-investment plans.
The market-to-book ratio is a vital sign of a utility’s health.
Like a physician with her stethoscope at the outset of a check-up, astute shareholders and directors should use the level and trend of a utility’s market-to-book ratio (MtB) as one of the first vital signs they monitor and as an ongoing and leading measure of a utility’s strategic health.
Economic uncertainties raise doubts about utility returns.
Economic uncertainties are raising doubts over utility returns. Will regulators feel the need to consider broader economic effects when engaging in ratemaking? While reporting on this year’s rate cases, the author provides insight on what to expect as stock prices fall.
(September 2008) Shareholder value remains strong as the Big Build begins. Our fourth annual ranking shows healthy growth in earnings and share prices. But as capital spending grows, dividends are shrinking and equity returns are weakening. Regulatory relationships will separate future winners from losers.