The utilities industry is seen as a safe haven for investors due to its heavily regulated nature and the core need for utility services such as electricity, gas and water in any economic environment. A key advantage of the utilities industry is the often geographic orientation of its operations. There are stringent laws in many countries regarding foreign ownership of utility companies that create substantial barriers to entry for offshore players. Operating in a domestic environment means utility companies are less affected by currency exchange. Utility companies need to ensure they continue to modernize infrastructure to keep up with increased customer demand and tighter environmental regulations imposed by governments. Infrastructure enhancements have been aided in recent years thanks to a global low interest rate environment; however, as economies continue to improve and interest rates begin to rise, utility companies must ensure they can continue to fund technological advancements of grid modernization to meet ever-changing demands. The world’s top four utility companies based on sales are located in Europe, with combined annual sales in 2015 of $386.9 billion. These companies are E.ON SE ADR (OTC: EONGY), Enel SpA ADR (OTC: ENLAY), Electricite de France SA ADR (OTC: ECIFY) and Engie SA ADR (OTC: ENGIY).

E.ON SE

E.ON is a German utility company that was incorporated in 2000 and employs 56,490 people. The company’s businesses are segmented into global and regional operations. The global segments include generation, renewables, global commodities, and exploration and production. Some of the company’s key regional units include Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden and France. E.ON has a market capitalization of $18.1 billion, with 2015 annual sales of $128.9 billion, the highest sales of any utility company in the world. Its price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio is 10, which is below the world utilities average of 15.6. As of April 2016, E.ON shares were trading at $9.43, with a price target of $11.08. Analysts give the stock an overweight rating. The company has a one-year return of negative 41.28%. It pays investors a yield of 6.05%, which is well above the world utilities average of 2.8%.

Enel SpA

Enel is an Italian power company that was incorporated in 1962 and employs 68,961 people. The company’s business segments include sales, generation and energy management, infrastructure and networks, Iberia and Latin America, international, renewable energy, and engineering and research. Enel has a market capitalization of $41 billion, with 2015 annual sales of $97.3 billion. Its P/E ratio is 12.4, which is below the world utilities average. As of April 2016, Enel shares were trading at $4.29, with a price target of $5.04. Analysts give the stock an overweight rating. The company has a one-year return of negative 3.34%. It pays investors a yield of 3.72%, which is above the world utilities average.

Electricite de France SA

Electricite de France is a French electricity producer, marketer and distributor that was incorporated in 1946 and employs 156,312 people. The company is involved in energy generation and sales to wholesale and retail customers. Electricite de France has a market capitalization of $21.2 billion, with 2015 annual sales of $83.2 billion. Its P/E ratio is 4.7, which is well below the global utilities average. As of April 2016, Electricite de France shares were trading at $11.59, with a price target of $13.11. Analysts give the stock a hold rating. The company has a one-year return of negative 50.27%.

Engie SA

Engie is a French electric utility company that was incorporated in 2008 and employs 5,461 people. The company’s key business segments include energy Europe, energy international, global gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG), and energy services. Engie has a market capitalization of $36.5 billion, with 2015 annual sales of $77.5 billion. Its P/E ratio is 13, which is below the global utilities average. As of April 2016, Engie shares were trading at $15.19, with a price target of $18.98. Analysts give the stock an overweight rating. The company has a one-year return of negative 25.54%. It pays investors a yield of 7.5%, which is well above the world utilities average.

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