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Because there are so many different ways to look at a company’s profitability, it can seem like a difficult task. One idea is to compare a company’s profitability margins to its industry peers. Companies with higher margins are taking a greater percentage of sales as profits, and they also have tighter control over their cost structure.

We ran a screen on the utilities sector for stocks with impressive profitability, beating their industry peers on gross, operating, and pretax margins.

Interactive Chart: Press Play to compare changes in analyst ratings over the last two years for the top six stocks mentioned below. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research.‬

We also created a price-weighted index of the stocks mentioned below, and monitored the performance of the list relative to the S&P 500 index over the last month. To access a complete analysis of this list's recent performance, click here.

Do you think these companies have strong operations? Use this list as a starting point for your own analysis.

List sorted by difference between gross margin and industry.

1. Transportadora de Gas Del Sur S.A. (NYSE:TGS): Engages in the transportation of natural gas, as well as production and commercialization of natural gas liquids primarily in Argentina. Market cap of $475.11M. TTM gross margin at 35.02% vs. industry gross margin at 21.94%. TTM operating margin at 22.22% vs. industry operating margin at 13.52%. TTM pretax margin at 18.39% vs. industry pretax margin at 11.04%. The stock has lost 17.4% over the last year.

2. Cleco Corporation (NYSE:CNL): Engages in the generation, transmission, distribution, and sale of electricity in Louisiana. Market cap of $2.20B. TTM gross margin at 37.89% vs. industry gross margin at 27.21%. TTM operating margin at 27.41% vs. industry operating margin at 18.54%. TTM pretax margin at 24.18% vs. industry pretax margin at 14.05%. The stock is a short squeeze candidate, with a short float at 5.64% (equivalent to 5.45 days of average volume). The stock has gained 22.55% over the last year.

3. AGL Resources Inc. (AGL): Distributes natural gas primarily in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia. Market cap of $3.24B. TTM gross margin at 29.73% vs. industry gross margin at 21.92%. TTM operating margin at 22.19% vs. industry operating margin at 13.50%. TTM pretax margin at 15.41% vs. industry pretax margin at 11.03%. The stock has gained 14.66% over the last year.

4. Westar Energy, Inc. (NYSE:WR): Engages in the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. Market cap of $3.24B. TTM gross margin at 36.03% vs. industry gross margin at 27.21%. TTM operating margin at 22.79% vs. industry operating margin at 18.54%. TTM pretax margin at 14.69% vs. industry pretax margin at 14.05%. The stock is a short squeeze candidate, with a short float at 10.25% (equivalent to 8.62 days of average volume). The stock has gained 15.18% over the last year.

5. PPL Corporation (NYSE:PPL): Generates and sells electricity; and delivers natural gas to approximately 5.3 million utility customers primarily in the northeastern and northwestern US. Market cap of $17.36B. TTM gross margin at 36.24% vs. industry gross margin at 27.37%. TTM operating margin at 27.79% vs. industry operating margin at 18.65%. TTM pretax margin at 18.59% vs. industry pretax margin at 14.14%. The stock has gained 23.64% over the last year.

6. Pinnacle West Capital Corporation (NYSE:PNW): Provides retail and wholesale electric services primarily in the State of Arizona. Market cap of $5.18B. TTM gross margin at 35.41% vs. industry gross margin at 27.37%. TTM operating margin at 22.32% vs. industry operating margin at 18.65%. TTM pretax margin at 15.99% vs. industry pretax margin at 14.14%. The stock has gained 21.25% over the last year.

7. Duke Energy Corporation (NYSE:DUK): Operates as an energy company in the Americas. Market cap of $27.75B. TTM gross margin at 34.80% vs. industry gross margin at 27.37%. TTM operating margin at 22.49% vs. industry operating margin at 18.65%. TTM pretax margin at 18.69% vs. industry pretax margin at 14.14%. The stock has gained 23.59% over the last year.

8. Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. (NYSE:PEG): Operates in the energy industry primarily in the northeastern and mid Atlantic United States. Market cap of $16.66B. TTM gross margin at 33.74% vs. industry gross margin at 27.06%. TTM operating margin at 25.20% vs. industry operating margin at 18.14%. TTM pretax margin at 20.06% vs. industry pretax margin at 13.43%. The stock has gained 9.29% over the last year.

9. Empire District Electric Co. (NYSE:EDE): Engages in the generation, purchase, transmission, distribution, and sale of electricity in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Market cap of $883.68M. TTM gross margin at 33.74% vs. industry gross margin at 27.37%. TTM operating margin at 22.26% vs. industry operating margin at 18.65%. TTM pretax margin at 15.15% vs. industry pretax margin at 14.14%. The stock is a short squeeze candidate, with a short float at 5.3% (equivalent to 6.82 days of average volume). The stock has lost 0.14% over the last year.

10. Southern Company (NYSE:SO): Operates as a utility company that provides electric service in the southeastern United States. Market cap of $37.85B. TTM gross margin at 32.53% vs. industry gross margin at 27.19%. TTM operating margin at 23.19% vs. industry operating margin at 18.51%. TTM pretax margin at 19.09% vs. industry pretax margin at 14.02%. The stock has gained 20.4% over the last year.

11. Companhia Paranaense de Energia (NYSE:ELP): Engages in the generation, transmission, distribution, and sale of electricity for industrial, residential, commercial, and rural customers primarily in the State of Parana, Brazil. Market cap of $5.51B. TTM gross margin at 32.48% vs. industry gross margin at 27.37%. TTM operating margin at 24.91% vs. industry operating margin at 18.65%. TTM pretax margin at 23.48% vs. industry pretax margin at 14.14%. The stock has had a couple of great days, gaining 8.33% over the last week.

12. Northwest Natural Gas Company (NYSE:NWN): Distributes natural gas primarily in Oregon, Washington, and California. Market cap of $1.26B. TTM gross margin at 25.32% vs. industry gross margin at 21.92%. TTM operating margin at 17.10% vs. industry operating margin at 13.50%. TTM pretax margin at 12.78% vs. industry pretax margin at 11.03%. The stock is a short squeeze candidate, with a short float at 9.9% (equivalent to 21.15 days of average volume). The stock has lost 0.76% over the last year.

13. American Electric Power Co., Inc. (NYSE:AEP): Engages in the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric power to retail customers. Market cap of $19.16B. TTM gross margin at 31.27% vs. industry gross margin at 27.19%. TTM operating margin at 20.26% vs. industry operating margin at 18.51%. TTM pretax margin at 16.17% vs. industry pretax margin at 14.02%. The stock has had a couple of great days, gaining 5.67% over the last week.

14. Enersis S.A. (NYSE:ENI): Engages in the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. Market cap of $11.60B. TTM gross margin at 30.49% vs. industry gross margin at 27.21%. TTM operating margin at 24.23% vs. industry operating margin at 18.54%. TTM pretax margin at 21.16% vs. industry pretax margin at 14.05%. The stock has lost 23.34% over the last year.

15. Dominion Resources, Inc. (NYSE:D): Engages in producing and transporting energy in the United States. Market cap of $29.40B. TTM gross margin at 30.32% vs. industry gross margin at 27.06%. TTM operating margin at 23.32% vs. industry operating margin at 18.14%. TTM pretax margin at 16.77% vs. industry pretax margin at 13.43%. The stock has gained 26.67% over the last year.

*Profitability data sourced from Fidelity, all other data sourced from Finviz.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.