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Coming to America: Investing in utilities

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February 2024

Investment views from our partners at Newton Investment Management (“Newton”), written by Newton Head of equity income and deputy chief investment officer of equities, Jim Lydotes and Newton Global Thematic Strategist, Brian Blongastainer.

Discover the catalysts that may be creating significant tailwinds for US utilities.

Key Points 

  • We believe there is a significant sector dislocation in US utilities, potentially unlocking opportunity for active managers. 
  • Government incentives aimed at decarbonization can provide tailwinds for renewables-exposed utilities. 
  • We believe electrification and investments in energy independence may continue to drive US electric and gas utilities.

In Newton’s view, investing within the utilities space has long been a choice between the US or Europe, with varying positive and negative aspects to each locale depending on the current regulatory environment. In particular, government intervention has traditionally been a key concern for investors in European utilities. Historically, when energy prices spiked in Europe, governments and regulators protected the consumer by dampening heating and electrification prices. This consumer protection has come at the expense of utilities companies, hurting their bottom lines and making them less attractive from an investment perspective.

European Utilities Have Dominated Since 2022

During the first few months of 2022, European energy prices began to surge after the start of the Russian/Ukrainian conflict raised concerns that Russia would turn off its natural gas supply to the rest of Europe. Investors largely assumed that governments and regulators would once again step in to cap prices for consumers and thereby reduce profits for utility companies. With this expectation, European utility companies largely underperformed during the first half of 2022.

At the time, our view toward European utilities was opportunistic. We found attractive valuations in the space, particularly relative to US utilities. Additionally, it was our belief that governments and regulators would again seek to help consumers but not to the extent they had previously. Instead, we thought that regulators would temper their impact on European utility companies as they recognized that utilities needed additional capital to allocate to renewables projects. These renewables programs are key for many countries that fear overreliance on Russian energy and seek to enhance their own energy output. 

Our belief in a more favorable-than-expected environment for European utilities was largely accurate. Governments were supportive of the utility sector and European utilities subsequently enjoyed a robust recovery.

Where Are We Now?

While European utility companies have produced robust returns, US utilities were one of the hardest-hit areas in 2023. As borrowing costs creeped higher, many US renewable projects became uneconomic and US utilities became quite volatile. We believe this has created a large dislocation between utilities and other sectors. As shown below, as of early February 2024, US utilities traded at their largest discount to the S&P 500® (blended forward price/earnings (P/E) ratio) in at least 19 years.

The Standard and Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) is a stock market index tracking the stock performance of 500 of the largest companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges.

The S&P 500® Utilities comprises those companies included in the S&P 500 that are classified as members of the GICS® utilities sector. 

Forward price-to-earnings (p/e) is a ratio of p/e that uses forecasted earnings using estimated earnings per share (EPS).

However, now new regulations in support of renewables projects have come into effect across almost all 50 states. Currently, there are 23 states in the US with 100% clean-energy goals, representing 53% of the US population.i Regulators understand that, in order to hit these ambitious targets, they need to help adjust the economics of utility companies, enabling continued investment in renewables projects. US utilities should continue to benefit as the incentives created by the Inflation Reduction Act accrue in the coming years, especially in areas such as wind and solar that can take years to develop from planning to completion. We believe US utility companies will not only benefit from the new renewables regulations, a critical area within the long-term decarbonization theme, but also from the deglobalization initiated after the Covid pandemic and rising geopolitical tensions as nations seek to better control their supply chains and sources of energy. We believe that the continuation of this US investment is crucial to ensure energy independence in an environment of growing electricity demand stemming from the energy transition. 


Given the thematic tailwinds, government support and growing demand for electricity and renewables, we believe US utility companies are well positioned to create value. As US utilities experience attractive valuations, and as regulators begin to provide positive incentives for renewable projects, we believe that US utilities could see a rerating. In our view, the wind is blowing west, and US utilities should begin to see the fruits of the current regulatory environment. 




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