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Energy weakest among S&P 500 sectors in July

The S&P 500 Energy index saw a total negative return of 1.8% in July, making it the lowest-performing index compared to the broad S&P 500 index, which recorded a total return of 1.4% during the month, according to data compiled by S&P Global Market Intelligence. The S&P 500 Utilities index dropped 0.3% in July.

Appalachian shale gas driller Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. took a beating in July, recording a negative return of 16.6%. Cabot CEO Dan Dinges said on the second-quarter earnings call that the company is in "difficult times," but is ready to dial back its spending and production to no-growth levels in 2020. "We'll take the hits on the short term, but we're going to do what's right on the long term," Dinges told analysts on the call.

Other energy companies recording double-digit losses included Apache Corp. at 14.8%, Cimarex Energy Co. at 14.6% and Williams Cos. Inc. at 12.1%.

Phillips 66, on the other hand, posted the strongest performance of the U.S. energy group, with a return of 9.6%. In July, the Texas-based energy giant announced to eliminate its incentive distribution rights and general partner economic interests in Phillips 66 Partners LP. On the company's earnings call, Chairman and CEO Greg Garland described the company's agreement as "the next step in the evolution of the [master limited partnership]." Upon deal completion in August, Phillips 66 will hold approximately 75% of Phillips 66 Partners' outstanding common units.

Phillips 66 was followed by HollyFrontier Corp. with a return of 7.5% and National Oilwell Varco Inc. with a gain of 7.2%.

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Edison International carried positive momentum from June and posted a return of 11.6%, followed by NiSource Inc. with a 3.8% return and Atmos Energy Corp. with a 3.3% return. During the month, Edison International completed a 28 million public offering of common shares at $68.50 apiece to support contributions to the California wildfire insurance fund.

FirstEnergy Corp. and Entergy Corp. also made it to the list of top five utility companies recording positive returns of 2.7% and 2.6%, respectively.

Exelon Corp., on the other hand, saw its total return decline by 6% in the month, as the company continues to call for market reforms to keep power plants operating. During an Aug. 1 call to discuss the company's second-quarter 2019 earnings, Exelon President and CEO Chris Crane said the decline in power prices represents a "considerable challenge" for the company.

The list of five bottom performers of the S&P 500 Utilities index also included PPL Corp., Dominion Energy Inc., Consolidated Edison Inc. and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.