Utility services play a vital role in a nation's economic
progress as cheap and abundant supply of power keeps the wheels
of development rolling. With development comes the need for more
power, as cities expand, and the use of new gadgets increases.
Per U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), total energy
use in the U.S. will increase to 106.3 quadrillion Btu in 2040
from 95 quadrillion Btu in 2012. Most of this demand is expected
to come from the Industrial sector followed by the Commercial
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Even so, the utilities have been under review for a long time.
The climate action plan of the U.S. President followed by the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposal for
tightening the rules to set up new power plants are putting
immense pressure on power producing units.
To meet the stringent regulation, utilities are now gradually
shifting their emphasis towards natural gas and alternate energy
sources to produce power. The utility operators are also
implementing new technologies in generation and distribution of
power. The introduction of smart meters will benefit customers
while the smart-grid technology is likely to increase efficiency.
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Utilities are by their very nature monopolistic businesses. As a
result, the sector is highly regulated as the essential supplies
cater to basic human needs, and governments try to ensure the
prices of these supplies - water, electricity, etc. - stay within
The utilities, on the other hand, try to increase prices through
the filing of rate cases. The investments and costs incurred for
the modernization and maintenance of reliable services are
recovered through these rate cases. (Read:
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Mainly, the steady performance of the companies lures investors
to the utility space. The biggest positive for the utilities is
that there is hardly any viable substitute for utility services.
ETFs to Tap the Sector
The services provided by utilities are always in demand, while
positive movement in the economy tends to increase the demand for
utility services. In addition, consistent payment of dividends
also makes these ETFs attractive and the defensive nature of
operations insulates these ETFs from market turbulence. (See all
Below, we highlight the ETFs in the Utility sector which
primarily have a U.S. bias.
Utilities Select Sector SPDR (
XLU is one of the most popular and widely traded utility ETFs.
The main purpose of this fund is to provide investment results
that correspond to the performance of the utilities select sector
index. The index includes communications services, electrical
power providers, and natural gas distributors.
Launched on December 15, 1998, presently XLU has an asset base of
$5.4 billion. This fund holds 32 stocks and the top 10 companies
hold a 57.77% share of total net assets. The average daily volume
(3 months) is 10,068,856 shares. The fund has a dividend yield of
3.65% and an expense ratio of 0.18%.
Among individual holdings, Duke Energy Corporation, NextEra
Energy Inc. and Dominion Resources comprising 9.27%, 7.98% and
7.95%, respectively, of total net assets take up the top three
Vanguard Utilities ETF (
This ETF aims to match the performance of the MSCI US Investable
Market Utilities Index. The ETF was launched on January 15, 2004.
Presently this fund manages an asset base of $1.5 billion.
This fund holds 78 stocks and the top 10 companies hold 46.51% of
total net assets. The average daily volume (3 months) is 110,519
shares. The product has a dividend yield of 3.57% and an expense
ratio of 0.14%
The top three individual holdings in the ETF include Duke Energy
Corporation, Dominion Resources and NextEra Energy Inc. with
asset allocation of 8.13%, 6.25% and 6.07%, respectively.
iShares Dow Jones US Utilities (
The fund seeks to match the performance and yield of the Dow
Jones U.S. Utilities Sector Index. The ETF manages an asset base
of $0.6 billion. Launched on Jun 11, 2000, IDU presently holds 63
The top 10 companies hold 48.51% of total net assets. The average
daily volume (3 months) is 81,492 shares. The fund has a dividend
yield of 3.19% and an expense ratio of 0.48%.
Duke Energy Corporation, NextEra Energy Inc. and Dominion
Resources comprising 8.34%, 6.62% and 6.59%, respectively, of
total net assets take up the top three spots.
Guggenheim S&P 500 Eq Weight Utilities (
The fund seeks to replicate the performance of the S&P 500
Equal Weighted Telecommunication Services and Utilities sector.
RYU debuted on October 31, 2006, and currently has 38 companies,
with the top 10 holdings comprising 28.19% of total net assets.
The average daily volume (3 months) is 6,461 shares. The fund has
a dividend yield of 3.56% and an expense ratio of 0.50%.
The top three stocks include ONEOK Inc., NiSource Inc. and
NextEra Energy Inc. with asset allocation of 3.00%, 2.90% and
First Trust Utilities AlphaDEX (
FXU seeks investment results that correspond generally to the
price and yield of the StrataQuant Utilities AlphaDex Index.
Launched on May 7, 2007, the fund manages an asset base of $126.0
million. The average daily volume (3 months) is 47,047 shares.
The product holds 45 stocks in total in its basket, with the top
10 companies comprising 40.18% of total net assets. The
fund has a dividend yield of 3.96% and an expense ratio of 0.70%.
ONEOK Inc., United States Cellular Corporation and Exelon Corp.
are the top three holdings with fund allocation of 4.49%, 4.32%
and 4.32%, respectively.
PowerShares Dynamic Utilities (
The ETF is linked to the Dynamic Utilities Indellidex
Index. This index evaluates utilities based on its stock
valuation, investment timeliness and fundamental strengths.
Formed on October 25, 2005, the ETF has assets worth $39.1
The average daily volume (3 months) is 4,944 shares. It is spread
across 61 companies with the top 10 holdings comprising 25.64% of
total net assets. The fund has a dividend yield of 2.48% and an
expense ratio of 0.60%.
The top three stocks include T-Mobile US Inc, Comcast Corp Class
A and NextEra Energy Inc., with asset allocation of 2.83%, 2.63%
and 2.61%, respectively.
To Sum Up
The biggest positive for the utilities is that there is hardly
any viable substitute for utility services. This is the most
fundamental strength of the industry. Moreover, increasing demand
drives this industry forward.
Despite the assured demand for services, the utilities have to
constantly meet the high expectations of its wide customer base,
adapt to a changing global economic scenario, and upgrade
technologies to meet stringent environmental norms.
We hardly find utilities posting eye-catching numbers, but these
companies are generally stable due to the regulated nature of
operations, and they are loyal to shareholders. The strength lies
in their value and yield. So, investors looking for a steady
return on their investments could take a Utility ETF approach.
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FT-UTIL ALPHA (FXU): ETF Research Reports
ISHARS-US UTIL (IDU): ETF Research Reports
PWRSH-DW UTL MO (PUI): ETF Research Reports
GUGG-SP5 EW UTL (RYU): ETF Research Reports
VIPERS-UTIL (VPU): ETF Research Reports
SPDR-UTIL SELS (XLU): ETF Research Reports
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