Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

London — If you ever needed convincing there’s money to be made investing in renewable-energy companies, just look at the best performer this year on Europe’s main utilities index.

As a torrid year for global markets draws to a close, Verbund  almost tripled in value in 2018 and is beating all of its 27 peers to the top spot on the STOXX 600 Utilities Index. The Austrian utility has, to a large extent, built its business on a simple but very profitable strategy: buy cheap electricity in the night, use it to pump water up the Alps, and release it through turbines during the day when prices are higher.

Other winners include Ørsted, which, in just a few years has transformed itself from Denmark’s national oil and gas behemoth into a nimble, publicly-traded company specialising in erecting giant wind turbines offshore. Fossil-free power producers Électricité de France and Finland’s Fortum Oyj also advanced, gaining 30% and 15%, respectively.

Part of the reason why these companies have done so well is that they don’t have to pay for European emission permits, a security whose 204% rally this year beat all other major commodities.

“Green utilities are well placed to generate long-term shareholder returns amid windfall profits from higher carbon prices and ample growth opportunities in Europe and abroad,” said Elchin Mammadov, a utilities analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in London. “They also don’t have to worry about dealing with legacy coal and gas assets.”

At the other end of the scale, the worst performer was Rubis, which suffered from weak earnings in the third quarter and some analyst downgrades.

Rubis shares have dropped as political unrest in Haiti has hurt its fuel distribution business. Its fuel storage activity in France and Turkey has been affected by weather-related delivery issues and by a lack of transit in northern Iraq.

Suez slipped almost as much, sliding by 22%. The shares were battered by a profit warning in January and took a new hit in December when its largest shareholder, Engie, said it will keep its 32% stake in the water and waste treatment company. That quashed speculation that it may take over a business it spun off a decade ago.

With François de Beaupuy

Bloomberg