Is It Still Safe to Buy Centrica?

LONDON -- I'm always searching for shares that can help ordinary investors like you make money from the stock market. However, many people are currently worried the market could be overheating (despite recent dips).

So right now I'm analyzing some of the most popular companies in the FTSE 100, hoping to establish if they can continue to outperform in today's uncertain economy.

Today I'm looking at Centrica  (LSE: CNA  ) (NASDAQOTH: CPYYY  ) to determine whether the shares are still safe to buy at 365 pence.

So, how's business going?
Thanks to a prolonged period of cold weather over the last winter period, Centrica's management are upbeat about the company's outlook.

Indeed, thanks to the colder weather, Centrica noted that its residential customer's gas consumption expanded 18% during the first quarter of this year. Additionally, the company noted that its customer's electricity consumption had increased by 3% for the same period.

Furthermore, 28,000 new customers joined Centrica during the first half of this year, adding to the company's growth.

Elsewhere, the company continues to expand production from its oil & gas assets in the North Sea. Centrica predicts that its production of oil and gas will rise by 12% during 2013, which should allow the company to widen its profit margins as it buys in less gas and oil to sell on to its customers.

Expected growth
While it would appear that Centrica is set for rapid earnings growth this year, City analysts remain cautious, predicting only modest growth for the company. City forecasts currently predict earnings of 27.7 pence per share for this year (3% growth) and 29.6 pence for 2014.

Shareholder returns
Centrica is well known for its solid dividend payout and management is committed to a progressive dividend policy. Additionally, the company is undertaking a £500 million share repurchase program this year, in a bid to return even more cash to investors.

Unfortunately, Centrica's dividend yield is currently 4.4% -- lower than that of its peers in the multi-utilities sector, which currently offer an average dividend yield of 4.9%.

Valuation
Unsurprisingly, due to Centrica's defensive nature, investors are prepared to pay highly for the company's shares and the company currently trades at a premium to its sector peers.

Centrica currently trades at a historic P/E of 15.2, while its peers trade on an average historic P/E of around 13.5.

Foolish summary
The defensive nature of Centrica's business and the company's secure dividend payout have impressed investors so far this year. Having said that, Centrica is currently trading at a premium to its peers and the firm's dividend yield is below the sector average, so overall, I believe that Centrica does not look safe to buy at 365 pence.

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Although I feel that it is not safe to buy Centrica, I am more positive on the five FTSE shares highlighted within this this exclusive wealth report.

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In the meantime, please stay tuned for my next FTSE 100 verdict

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