Double Taxation Repeal: Fire or Ice?
The pros and cons of dividend pay-out reductions and stock repurchase programs in uncertain economic times.
The Dow Jones Utility Average currently stands at its lowest level in five years. Electric and gas utilities, along with U.S. companies generally, have been consistently lowering their payout ratios over the past several years, and that downward trend is projected to continue. What do these facts portend for utility investors in the near future?
WELCOME BACK, MY FRIENDS, TO THE SHOW that never ends."
So said two weary commission staffers, trudging out of the hearing room late Friday afternoon, Jan. 31, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission adjourned its technical conference on the financial outlook for natural gas pipelines.
The hearing ran way behind schedule (em further evidence that before she left last summer for the Department of Energy, former FERC Chairwoman Elizabeth Moler neglected to pass along to successor James Hoecker whatever gene she possessed that allowed her to keep meetings moving right along.
Do electric utilities understand how to earn profits for shareholders in a competitive market?
Here's one way to look at the problem. Gather a group of financial experts and ask this question: If a company's long-term bonds are rated AA, and yield 8 percent, what minimum return would you require from dividend yield and price appreciation to induce you to buy that company's stock?
The typical expert will say 12 percent, indicating a 4-percent premium (or spread) above AA bond yields.
So the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) won't break up the electric utility industry. But it may happen anyway (em if not at the FERC's direction, then perhaps under pressure from state regulators who, some say, are threatening to link stranded-cost recovery to vertical disaggregation.
What would a breakup mean for bonds and bondholders?
As we reported last month ("New Corporate Structures Place Bondholders at Risk," May 1, 1996, p.
return-on-equity (ROE) analyses.