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The Impact of Liberalization and Environmental Policy on the Financial Returns of European Energy Utilities

European energy utilities face a range of policy induced challenges that are materially affecting their financial returns. Accordingly, in this paper we examine the impact of liberalization, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and security of supply legislation on European energy utilities' returns between 1996 and 2013. We implement an event study portfolio analysis using a comprehensive list of major regulatory changes, the largest utility sample to date, and a novel asset pricing model that controls for sector-level stock-market, term premium, and commodity risk factors. The results show EU policies that focus on liberalization and energy efficiency have a significant negative impact on the energy sector's financial returns. This reflects changes in the fundamental risk-reward trade-off of European energy utilities and investors' recognition of the economic impact of EU legislations on the sector. Contrary to assertions by the financial press, renewable energy objectives have no significant impact on returns at sector-level; the impact is mostly concentrated on the natural gas utilities. Our results highlight a tension between liberalization and environmental objectives, negatively impacting the sector's ability to raise the estimated $2.2 trillion investment capital needed to ensure reliable and increasingly environmentally-friendly energy supply.

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Energy Specializations: Electricity – Generation Technologies; Electricity – Generation Fuel Planning & Management; Electricity – Markets and Prices ; Electricity – Generation Technologies; Electricity – Markets and Prices

JEL Codes: Q41: Energy: Demand and Supply; Prices, Q42: Alternative Energy Sources

Keywords: Liberalization, Environmental Policy, Financial Risk, Financial Return

DOI: 10.5547/01956574.38.2.dtul

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Published in Volume 38, Number 2 of the bi-monthly journal of the IAEE's Energy Economics Education Foundation.


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