While the performance of the technology sector indicates risk appetite is prevalent in financial markets this year, some investors still prefer defensive sectors. That much is confirmed by a year-to-date surge of over 13% for the Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLU), the largest utilities sector exchange traded fund.
As is widely known, the Federal Reserve holds its July meeting this week. Fed meetings can potentially put focus on rate-sensitive asset classes and sectors, including utilities. XLU yields about 3.3% on a trailing 12-month, making it and rival utilities ETFs popular alternatives to lower-yielding bond funds. The sector, one of the smallest sector allocations in the S&P 500, is also one of the least volatile.
“Remember, Treasury yields and utilities are normally inversely related. Higher interest rates make utilities comparatively less appealing in terms of dividend yields. Thus, investors generally offload stocks when interest rates go up,” reports Market Realist. “Higher interest rates are also expected to dent utilities given their heavy capital-expenditure requirements. Utilities usually carry large amounts of debt on their books, and higher interest rates increase their debt-servicing costs, ultimately hurting profitability.”
As the Fed continues raising interest rates, the higher rates will make fixed-income instruments more attractive on a relative basis, and bond-like equities, like utilities, less enticing. Consequently, utilities may remain flat or underperform other segments of the equities market once rates start ticking higher.
No sector is as negatively correlated to rising interest rates as utilities, meaning the longer the Fed resists raising interest rates, the longer high-yielding utilities stocks and ETFs remain compelling destinations for yield-starved investors.
XLU “is trading at a fair premium of nearly 3% and 7% to its 50-day and 200-day simple moving averages, respectively, and this shows strength in the fund. XLU is likely to remain strong until it crosses below both of these moving average levels. Its 50-day moving average, which is around $53.32, is expected to act as a support for XLU in the short term,” according to Market Realist.
XLU and rival utilities continue to captivate yield-starved investors as the sector sports more tempting yields than are found on U.S. government debt.
XLU “currently offers a dividend yield of 3.5%, which is way higher than SPY’s 2%. Utilities’ current yield is also at a premium of 140–150 basis points to the ten-year Treasury yield. Interestingly, utilities’ average dividend yield of 3.5% is much lower than the yields of some of the top utility stocks,” notes Market Realist.
For more information on market sectors, visit our sector ETFs category.
The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.