This Industry Expert Says Utility Mergers Will Keep Coming

Wisconsin Energy (NYSE: WEC  ) is buying Integrys Energy Group (NYSE: TEG  ) for $9.1 billion. The deal is big, but it's really just par for the course in an industry that's seen over 100 mergers and acquisitions over the past 20 years. This deal shows why famed value investor Mario Gabelli thinks there's plenty of deal making left to be done.

What's the deal?
Wisconsin Energy is paying a premium of roughly 17% to buy Integrys Energy Group. That's a nice pop for Integrys shareholders. A couple of days after the deal was announced, shares of Integrys were trading around $69 a share, a couple of bucks below the nearly $71.50 deal price. Investors looking to lock in a quick gain should probably sell their shares.

(Source: ReubenGBrewer, via Wikimedia Commons)

Once consummated, the combined company will be named WEC Energy Group. Of course, the merger has to pass through the typical hurdles before the deal can get done, including approval of key utility regulators. It's usually not a quick process and sometimes deals do get nixed. That's why there is a difference between the deal value and Integrys' share price.

Wisconsin gets bigger
The big benefit of this deal is that Wisconsin Energy will gain scale in the regulated utility market. It will go from roughly 2.2 million natural gas and electric customers to 4.3 million. Moreover, its operating region will expand from its namesake Wisconsin and Michigan to include Illinois and Minnesota. That will provide for material economies of scale.

That dovetails with Mario Gabelli's industrywide expectations. "For several decades, utility companies have acquired other utilities and utility assets for the sake of gaining economies of scale and efficiency. The same forces that resulted in more than one hundred utility takeover announcements over the past two decades remain in place, and new forces have come into play that continue to drive this long-term trend."

The new trends he's talking about include climate change and the associated regulations now being implemented, as well as a slowing in the rate of electricity demand. However, according to Gabelli, "The electric and gas utility sector remains fragmented, with over 60 electric utilities and 30 gas utilities. This is 50 more than we need, from the standpoint of economic efficiency."

There will be more
Basically, Gabelli is saying that there will be more mergers to come. The acquisition of Integrys Energy Group by Wisconsin Energy is a great example of why. Although Wisconsin Energy has increased its dividend in each of the past 10 years (including the 2007 to 2009 recession), its revenues have been stuck between $4.2 billion and around $4.5 billion since 2007. Wisconsin is a nice state, but there's only just so much growth potential from being in what is effectively one market.

(Source: ReubenGBrewer, via Wikimedia Commons)

That's why adding two new markets makes complete sense. The combined generating assets will give the enlarged entity more choices when juxtaposing environmental regulations against its power needs. It will also increase Wisconsin Energy's natural gas business from around 15% of the top line to nearly 25%. Historically low natural gas prices have shifted this segment of the utility market into growth mode again.

Once the deal is done, the merged Wisconsin Energy and Integrys Energy Group will own a combined 60% stake in American Transmission. Transmission assets are an increasingly valuable side of the utility market. Part of that is because of regulatory changes that are leading to shifts in the sources of power utilities are employing. Getting power from where it's generated to where it is used is increasingly important. In fact, investments in the so-called grid tend to be viewed favorably by regulators.

A year to go
Wisconsin Energy expects its acquisition of Integrys Energy Group to close in the summer of 2015. That's a long way off. Integrys shareholders should at least consider locking in gains. However, for those with a long-term bent, Wisconsin Energy looks like it will be a better company after the deal is done. You can expect a dividend hike along the way as well. For those looking for the next big merger, though, this deal shows exactly why you need to keep a close eye on the utility market.

Top dividend stocks for the next decade
The smartest investors know that dividend stocks simply crush their non-dividend paying counterparts over the long term. That's beyond dispute. They also know that a well-constructed dividend portfolio creates wealth steadily, while still allowing you to sleep like a baby. Knowing how valuable such a portfolio might be, our top analysts put together a report on a group of high-yielding stocks that should be in any income investor's portfolio. To see our free report on these stocks, just click here now.


Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (0)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 3025416, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 8/28/2014 9:06:27 AM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement