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Are Utilities Stocks Lagging National Fuel Gas Company (NFG) This Year?

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The Utilities group has plenty of great stocks, but investors should always be looking for companies that are outperforming their peers. National Fuel Gas (NFG - Free Report) is a stock that can certainly grab the attention of many investors, but do its recent returns compare favorably to the sector as a whole? By taking a look at the stock's year-to-date performance in comparison to its Utilities peers, we might be able to answer that question.

National Fuel Gas is one of 106 companies in the Utilities group. The Utilities group currently sits at #4 within the Zacks Sector Rank. The Zacks Sector Rank considers 16 different sector groups. The average Zacks Rank of the individual stocks within the groups is measured, and the sectors are listed from best to worst.

The Zacks Rank emphasizes earnings estimates and estimate revisions to find stocks with improving earnings outlooks. This system has a long record of success, and these stocks tend to be on track to beat the market over the next one to three months. National Fuel Gas is currently sporting a Zacks Rank of #1 (Strong Buy).

Over the past three months, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for NFG's full-year earnings has moved 15.6% higher. This means that analyst sentiment is stronger and the stock's earnings outlook is improving.

Based on the most recent data, NFG has returned 2.9% so far this year. Meanwhile, the Utilities sector has returned an average of -4.9% on a year-to-date basis. This means that National Fuel Gas is performing better than its sector in terms of year-to-date returns.

Another stock in the Utilities sector, Southern Co. (SO - Free Report) , has outperformed the sector so far this year. The stock's year-to-date return is 3.1%.

Over the past three months, Southern Co.'s consensus EPS estimate for the current year has increased 1.3%. The stock currently has a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

Breaking things down more, National Fuel Gas is a member of the Utility - Gas Distribution industry, which includes 15 individual companies and currently sits at #56 in the Zacks Industry Rank. On average, this group has gained an average of 7.5% so far this year, meaning that NFG is slightly underperforming its industry in terms of year-to-date returns.

In contrast, Southern Co. falls under the Utility - Electric Power industry. Currently, this industry has 59 stocks and is ranked #91. Since the beginning of the year, the industry has moved -4.4%.

Investors interested in the Utilities sector may want to keep a close eye on National Fuel Gas and Southern Co. as they attempt to continue their solid performance.

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