VPU: Utilities Dashboard For April

Summary

  • Utilities industries are overvalued by 25% to 34% relative to 11-year averages.
  • Quality scores don’t justify such overvaluation.
  • VPU: an alternative to XLU.
  • 10 utilities stocks cheaper than their peers in April.
  • Looking for a helping hand in the market? Members of Quantitative Risk & Value get exclusive ideas and guidance to navigate any climate. Learn More »

high voltage post.

hxdyl/iStock via Getty Images

This monthly article series shows a dashboard with aggregate industry metrics in utilities. It is also a top-down analysis of sector ETFs like the Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLU) and the Vanguard Utilities ETF (NYSEARCA:VPU), whose largest holdings are used to calculate these metrics.

Shortcut

The next two paragraphs in italic describe the dashboard methodology. They are necessary for new readers to understand the metrics. If you are used to this series or if you are short of time, you can skip them and go to the charts.

Base Metrics

I calculate the median value of five fundamental ratios for each industry: Earnings Yield ("EY"), Sales Yield ("SY"), Free Cash Flow Yield ("FY"), Return on Equity ("ROE"), Gross Margin ("GM"). The reference universe includes large companies in the U.S. stock market. The five base metrics are calculated on trailing 12 months. For all of them, higher is better. EY, SY and FY are medians of the inverse of Price/Earnings, Price/Sales and Price/Free Cash Flow. They are better for statistical studies than price-to-something ratios, which are unusable or non available when the "something" is close to zero or negative (for example, companies with negative earnings). I also look at two momentum metrics for each group: the median monthly return (RetM) and the median annual return (RetY).

I prefer medians to averages because a median splits a set in a good half and a bad half. A capital-weighted average is skewed by extreme values and the largest companies. My metrics are designed for stock-picking rather than index investing.

Value and Quality Scores

I calculate historical baselines for all metrics. They are noted respectively EYh, SYh, FYh, ROEh, GMh, and they are calculated as the averages on a look-back period of 11 years. For example, the value of EYh for hardware in the table below is the 11-year average of the median Earnings Yield in hardware companies.

The Value Score ("VS") is defined as the average difference in % between two valuation ratios (EY, SY) and their baselines (EYh, SYh). FY is reported for consistency with other sector dashboards, but it is ignored in utilities’ score to avoid some inconsistencies. The same way, the Quality Score ("QS") is the average difference between the two quality ratios (ROE, GM) and their baselines (ROEh, GMh).

The scores are in percentage points. VS may be interpreted as the percentage of undervaluation or overvaluation relative to the baseline (positive is good, negative is bad). This interpretation must be taken with caution: the baseline is an arbitrary reference, not a supposed fair value. The formula assumes that the two valuation ratios are of equal importance.

Current data

The next table shows the metrics and scores as of last week's closing. Columns stand for all the data named and defined above.

VS

QS

EY

SY

FY

ROE

GM

EYh

SYh

FYh

ROEh

GMh

RetM

RetY

Gas

-25.32

-1.10

0.0438

0.3936

-0.1103

9.36

36.61

0.0486

0.6645

-0.0560

9.48

36.96

5.32%

15.11%

Water

-31.73

3.26

0.0317

0.1437

-0.0391

10.20

54.78

0.0382

0.2683

-0.0325

9.48

55.37

-4.16%

6.25%

Electricity

-33.45

4.18

0.0398

0.3269

-0.0564

9.74

42.06

0.0533

0.5594

-0.0428

9.88

38.31

7.48%

14.79%

Value and Quality chart

The next chart plots the Value and Quality Scores by industry. Higher is better.

Value and Quality in utilities

Value and Quality in utilities (Chart: author; data: Portfolio123)

Evolution since last month

Value scores have deteriorated in gas and electricity due to price action. Quality has deteriorated in water utilities.

Variations in value and Quality in utilities

Variations in value and Quality (Chart: author; data: Portfolio123)

Momentum

The next chart plots median returns by subsector.

Momentum in utilities

Momentum in utilities (Chart: author; data: Portfolio123)

Interpretation

Utilities industries are overvalued by 25% to 34% relative to 11-year averages. Quality scores are close to the baseline and don’t justify such overvaluation. All industries together, utilities are one of the three most overvalued sectors regarding my metrics, along with industrials and technology.

Focus on VPU

The Vanguard Utilities ETF has been tracking the MSCI USA IMI Utilities 25/50 Index since 01/26/2004. The expense ratio of 0.10% is a bit more expensive than FUTY (0.08%), which tracks the same index, and a bit cheaper than XLU (0.12%), which tracks a large-cap utilities index. VPU is also available as a mutual fund (VUIAX).

As of writing, it has 66 holdings. The next table shows the top 10 names with basic ratios and dividend yields. Their aggregate weight is about 54%.

Ticker

Name

Weight

EPS growth %TTM

P/E TTM

P/E fwd

Yield%

NEE

NextEra Energy Inc.

13.80%

22.14

45.74

29.42

2.05

DUK

Duke Energy Corp.

7.13%

186.25

23.23

21.02

3.43

SO

Southern Co.

6.38%

-22.71

33.70

21.38

3.47

D

Dominion Energy Inc.

5.71%

855.51

21.96

21.22

3.05

SRE

Sempra

4.29%

-67.72

41.77

20.17

2.67

AEP

American Electric Power Co.

4.17%

12.07

20.59

20.44

3.06

EXC

Exelon Corp.

3.87%

-13.44

28.17

21.74

2.75

XEL

Xcel Energy Inc.

3.23%

6.17

25.12

23.42

2.62

PEG

Public Service Enterprise Group

2.94%

-134.62

N/A

20.95

2.97

ED

Consolidated Edison Inc.

2.78%

17.16

25.47

21.80

3.22

The performance and risk metrics of VPU and XLU since February 2004 are almost identical (see table below).

Total Return

Annual. Return

Drawdown

Sharpe

VPU

507.61%

10.42%

-46.11%

0.71

XLU

507.19%

10.41%

-46.60%

0.71

Data calculated with Portfolio123

In summary, VPU is a good instrument with cheap fees for investors seeking a capital-weighted exposure in utilities. It holds more stocks than XLU (currently 66 vs. 31), but there is no difference in past performance. Buy-and-hold investors may prefer VPU for its slightly lower management fees. However, XLU is a better instrument for tactical allocation and swing trading thanks to a much higher liquidity. Exposure to the top names is high, especially to NextEra Energy: almost 14%. Investors who don’t like it may prefer the Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight Utilities ETF (RYU).

Dashboard List

I use the first table to calculate value and quality scores. It may also be used in a stock-picking process to check how companies stand among their peers. For example, the EY column tells us that an electricity company with an Earnings Yield above 0.0398 (or price/earnings below 25.13) is in the better half of the industry regarding this metric. A Dashboard List is sent every month to Quantitative Risk & Value subscribers with the most profitable companies standing in the better half among their peers regarding the three valuation metrics at the same time. The list below was sent to subscribers several weeks ago based on data available at this time.

FE

FirstEnergy Corp.

HE

Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc.

CWT

California Water Service Group

NRG

NRG Energy Inc.

OGE

OGE Energy Corp.

CNP

CenterPoint Energy Inc.

PNW

Pinnacle West Capital Corp.

SJI

South Jersey Industries Inc.

ETR

Entergy Corporation

SR

Spire Inc.

It is a rotating list with a statistical bias toward excess returns on the long-term, not the result of an analysis of each stock.

From January 2017 to December 2021, the Dashboard List has returned about 81% (all sectors together) vs. 66% for its benchmark Russell 1000 Value Index (past performance is not a guarantee of future returns). Members get updates on it and other time-tested strategies, plus risk indicators. Get started with a two-week free trial now.

This article was written by

Fred Piard profile picture
14.27K Followers
Data-driven model portfolios and market risk indicators.
Author of Quantitative Risk & Value and three books, I have been investing in systematic strategies since 2010. I have a PhD in computer science, an MSc in software engineering, an MSc in civil engineering and 30 years of professional experience in various sectors. My aim is making simple and efficient quantitative investing techniques available to my followers. Quantitative models can make investment decisions faster, reproducible and emotionless by focusing on relevant information in the middle of market noise. Moreover, models can be refined to meet specific risk tolerance and objectives. 

Step up your investing experience: try Quantitative Risk & Value for free now (limited offer).

I am an individual investor and an IT professional, not a finance professional. My writings are data analysis and opinions, not investment advice. They may contain inaccurate information, despite all the effort I put in them. Readers are responsible for all consequences of using information included in my work, and are encouraged to do their own research from various sources.

Follow

Disclosure: I/we have no stock, option or similar derivative position in any of the companies mentioned, and no plans to initiate any such positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

To ensure this doesn’t happen in the future, please enable Javascript and cookies in your browser.
Is this happening to you frequently? Please report it on our feedback forum.
If you have an ad-blocker enabled you may be blocked from proceeding. Please disable your ad-blocker and refresh.