(Bloomberg) — The world’s electricity, gas and water suppliers have accomplished the improbable feat of striking bigger deals than they did prior to the onset of the year’s slump in mergers and acquisitions.

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This week, Veolia Environnement SA set the stage for what could be a long battle for full control of Suez SA by taking a 29.9% stake in the French water utility for 3.4 billion euros ($4 billion). It was the latest in a flurry of multibillion-dollar transactions that have lifted utilities deal volumes by more than a third this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, making it the only major sector tracking above 2019 levels.

Driving the trend has been companies’ desire to cash in on investor demand for stable assets that can deliver sustainable long-term returns, which has been amplified by the pandemic. The broader push toward clean power generation and supply also continues to shape corporate strategy among utilities executives.

“During times of uncertainty, investors are increasingly looking for asset classes that offer safety and stability for their capital,” said Steffen Pleser, Europe, Middle East and Africa head of power, utilities and infrastructure at UBS Group AG. “We are seeing that the utility sector has proven to be even more attractive during this pandemic and expect the level of activity to continue.”

With the prospect of milestone transactions involving NextEra Energy Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. in the U.S. and PPL Corp.’s business in the U.K. still in the offing, the industry could yet see one of its best years since before the financial crisis more than a decade ago. All this as global M&A volumes remain down by more than a fifth because of the coronavirus pandemic.



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Even as the pandemic began to take hold in March,