Twelve of the 37 utility stocks in the S&P 500 lost more than half their value in 2002 -- bad luck for widows and orphans everywhere.

It was an ugly year for the power-company sector -- once deemed safe enough for the above demographic groups -- amid continuing fallout from the Enron debacle and the implosions of onetime stalwarts Dynegy ( DYN), El Paso ( EP), and Williams ( WMB). Investors surveying the wreckage might be hard-pressed to explain how any executives -- current or recently ousted -- merited any pay at all in 2002. The ROE v. Paid: Utilities chart shows that the executives got by.

While the 2002 executive compensation figures aren't all in yet, there are a few eye-popping payouts, including a $32.5 million payout for former Exelon ( EXC) Chief and Co-CEO Corbin McNeill, according to figures provided by compensation-tracker eComp Online. (Next week we will update the chart with the most recent compensation figures.)

Beyond stock performance, how did the industry's CEOs perform in 2002? Using return-on-equity figures doesn't do much to improve the picture. The ROE v. Paid chart below measures the average return on equity over the past five years for each of the 37 utilities companies in the S&P 500. ROE is a handy measure of how effectively a CEO puts shareholder money to use.

For the chart, we set the bar for solid performance at 15% average ROE over the past five years -- an imperfect gauge because of apples-to-oranges comparison across some sectors and occasional one-year flukes that throw off a company's five-year average.

Nonetheless, readers can compare ROEs within subsectors to get a better sense of how a company stacks up. (For more information on our ROE v. Paid series, please read Thursday's introduction piece or the stories on tech CEOs , telecom CEOs and energy CEOs .)

Utility Value?
It's hard to imagine William Wise and Charles Watson, the ousted CEOs at El Paso and Dynegy, investing their combined 2001 take of $63 million in the battered utilities sector. As the ROE rankings show, the two didn't exactly do right by shareholders.
All told, only four utilities had five-year average return on equity above 15%.
Company (Ticker Symbol) 5-Year ROE 1-Year ROE Chief Executive Compensation*; Rank in 500 Richest CEOs in 2002 Stock Return in 2002
Calpine (CPN:NYSE) 16.2% 3.48% Peter Cartwright $2,888,479***
Not in top 500
Sempra Energy (SRE:NYSE) 16.1 21.42 Stephen Baum $7,120,602
Teco Energy (TE:NYSE) 15.2 14.4 Robert Fagan $3,745,837
Not in top 500

* Compensation figures include pay, bonus and option grants.
*** 2001 compensation figures, provided by eComp.
Source:, Bloomberg, eComp Online, AFL-CIO Paywatch, Yahoo!

Click here to see entire table.