Dominion Vitality (NYSE:D) is among the many largest utility firms in the USA, with operations centered within the mid-Atlantic area and round 28GW total capacity. Like many utility firms, the sharp rise in gasoline prices, blue-collar wages, upkeep overhead, and curiosity bills have created strains on the agency’s backside line. Dominion’s inventory is presently resting at one of many lowest ranges this decade, following massive drawdowns late final yr.
The final six months of 2022 have been tough for the agency as its CEO put the company under a “top to bottom” business review, resulting in a wave of analyst downgrades. Utility buyers traditionally don’t like uncertainty, and since most utility margins are protected by price regulation, managerial selections are a major issue influencing utility inventory costs. At this level, it stays unclear what modifications Dominion’s enterprise will face, but it surely is anticipated to create some pressure on its money flows within the brief run.
The corporate faces different dangers that will negatively affect its worth in 2023. Macroeconomic circumstances threaten vitality gasoline prices, and wages might proceed to rise rapidly sufficient that regulators push back against rate increases. Nonetheless, the extra problematic pressure might come from Dominion’s offshore wind mission plan, which is anticipated to price an excellent deal to supply comparatively little energy. Total, whereas Dominion’s valuation has compressed to a extra engaging stage, buyers ought to contemplate the fabric dangers and potential lack of shareholder (and buyer) worth focus, which can hurt the agency’s fairness over the approaching years.
Strategically Poor Investments
Traditionally, utility firms spend money on vitality manufacturing and grid tasks which are anticipated to cut back client prices and enhance energy manufacturing and distribution. As such, Dominion can cost prospects straight for the tasks it pursues to extend energy technology. Nonetheless, issues have grown as Dominion seeks “inexperienced vitality” solar and wind projects which are costly for purchasers and the agency whereas creating little energy. In 2020, the corporate additionally canceled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline natural gas project, which had already made vital investments and was anticipated to decrease buyer energy prices.
Controversy has grown round Dominion’s offshore wind mission, “CVOW.” The project is expected to be completed around 2027, adding up to 2.6 GW (a <10% enhance in Dominion’s manufacturing), and price round $21.5B – roughly half of which can come from the agency’s CapEx finances. First, it’s unclear if the mission will price as a lot as anticipated and if it is going to produce as a lot as Dominion hopes. On that observe, Dominion was unwilling to ensure the mission has just 42% of the 2.6GW goal.
After approving the mission, the Virginia State Corporation Commission warned:
The magnitude of this mission is so nice that it’s going to probably be the most costly mission being undertaken by any regulated utility in the USA. And the electrical energy produced by this Challenge shall be among the many most costly sources of energy — on each a per kilowatt of agency capability and a per megawatt-hour foundation — in your complete United States, the order stated.
Total, I consider it’s clear that buyers ought to query Dominion’s managerial focus. As a public firm, it should make selections anticipated to enhance shareholder worth. As a regulated utility, it should make selections anticipated to boost buyer worth. I consider its vital investments in these tasks don’t essentially profit both. Whereas the agency argues that these investments will ultimately cut back fossil gasoline dependence (which helps each buyers and prospects), they arrive at an excessive price for each buyers and prospects and, at this level, promise to supply minimal energy. If these goals don’t pan out, the corporate might jeopardize its monetary place as cost overruns will come from the company’s funds. When development staff and tools are in scarcity, that danger appears very excessive. Moreover, these tasks might ultimately enhance regulatory modifications since they disproportionately enhance buyer prices to energy manufacturing.
Rising Working Prices and Debt Add Threat
Over the previous decade, Dominion has seen vital development within the portion of its income paying working prices. On the similar time, its gross margins have been beneath pressure on account of rising prices and difficulties in growing charges. These developments are leading to immense losses to the agency’s cash-flow margins. See under:
Dominion’s revenue margins have skilled elevated volatility for the reason that pandemic. Traditionally, utility firms have had regular margins on account of their “regulated monopoly” place. That stated, the rise in Dominion’s working prices might ultimately create pressure as regulators demand the corporate enhance its effectivity earlier than pushing prices onto prospects. Additional, Dominion’s money flows have declined dramatically, primarily on account of deferred fuel costs related to rising gasoline costs.
Dominion additionally has barely larger debt leverage and CapEx spending than its vital friends:
All utilities have massive capital expense budgets, and most use excessive debt. Nonetheless, as utility firms battle with growing worker shortages and rising rates of interest, I consider all will probably see an elevated pressure on free money flows. In different phrases, it is going to change into harder for a lot of utilities to develop or keep dividends. Whereas Dominion’s metrics are just like friends, they’re on the excessive finish, creating some elevated dangers for the agency. As such, it’s not a big shock that Dominion nonetheless has a decreased dividend price however does pay the very best yield. See under:
Dominion’s yield is barely above its friends and could be a lot larger than its friends if the corporate re-enacts its outdated dividend coverage. I consider it is going to probably must maintain its dividend low to take care of money flows, contemplating the corporate is ramping up capital investments into costly renewable tasks. Nonetheless, whereas Dominion seems barely riskier than its friends, it’s discounted accordingly, so it’s not essentially an overvalued firm based mostly solely on peer metrics.
The Backside Line
Total, Dominion Vitality seems to supply a mixture of constructive and unfavourable qualities for buyers. Its constructive high quality is its elevated dividend yield and roughly 20% low cost in comparison with different utility firms (based mostly on an array of valuation metrics). That stated, Dominion’s low cost appears propositional to its elevated danger publicity. Firm-specific dangers embrace its excessive leverage, the “top-to-bottom” enterprise evaluate, and the varied dangers related to its high-cost renewable tasks.
To me, Dominion appears too centered on its outward look (ESG scores, political approval, and so on.) in comparison with its core enterprise of offering vitality to prospects inexpensively. Whereas specializing in idealistic “outward appearances” might profit the corporate, the sensible concern of excessive capital prices and low energy technology related to these tasks is sufficient that I might keep away from investing in them. That stated, these tasks are long-term in nature and don’t essentially elevate the companies’ short-term dangers.
From a 2023-2024 standpoint, I consider Dominion is not any riskier than most utility shares. I don’t assume the agency is a robust long-term funding on account of its personal questionable long-term investments, however which means little for its revenue outlook over the approaching years. Nonetheless, I’m barely bearish on the agency and consider it could decline over the approaching yr on account of macroeconomic pressures facing all utility firms. Nonetheless, Dominion might outperform lots of its friends over the approaching yr on account of its decrease valuation.