Stock market volatility seems to be on the upswing. That's the time to find anchors for your portfolio, and dividend-paying utility stocks are perfect candidates. These three old, tested, and dividend-paying utilities could be good options right now.
When it comes to the utility industry, the excitement is in the renewable-power space. Solar players such as SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY.DL) and SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) have seen their share prices skyrocket, while old stalwarts such as Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK), Southern Company (NYSE:SO), and Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED) look as if they're crawling through molasses.
However, that's the long-term view. If you look at the the past three months, a period in which stock indexes have started to jump around in often violent swings, these hot solar stocks are down around 20% each while the battle-worn and old-school utilities are up between 5% and 10%. And each of them sports around a 4% dividend yield, paying you well to stick around when the market gets rough. Now that's a foundation for a broader portfolio.
Shifting at the edges
Duke Energy is one of the largest investor-owned utilities in the country, serving over 7 million customers across six states (its primary markets are Indiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina). Like most utilities, it's been adjusting to changing industry conditions. The biggest event was the purchase of Progress Energy in 2012.
And the makeover is notable. For example, in 2005 regulated utility operations made up about two-thirds of Duke's business. Today that number is roughly 85%. Foreign operations and merchant power plants have much less impact today then they did about a decade ago. That's good, because regulated utility operations have far more consistent growth prospects. Even though the upside potential is limited, consistent is good in market downdrafts.
Moreover, Duke has increased its dividend annually since 2007. Management expects dividend growth to increase from its recent run rate of about 2% a year to a level more consistent with earnings growth over the next few years. A yield of just under 4% is fairly enticing, too.
Building for the future
Southern, meanwhile, has been struggling with a couple of very large construction projects as it prepares for the industry's future. Construction delays and cost overruns have set back a nuclear plant and a coal plant outfitted with carbon-capture technology.
While cost escalation isn't uncommon in big projects, Southern has taken some pretty big hits on these two. For example, the coal plant, located in Kemper, Miss., will probably cost more than twice as much as expected. Both projects, however, are nearly complete, and the financial damage has already been done. When they are up and running, Southern will have two high-tech power plants to help serve its 4.4 million customers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi.
With over a decade of dividend increases and an impressive yield, it may be worth considering this old-time utility stalwart now that its big construction plans are coming to an end. The shares yield nearly 4.5%.
Getting it there
Consolidated Edison is in a slightly different position than Duke or Southern. It serves nearly 5 million electric and natural gas customers in the New York City area and in New York's Rockland and Westchester counties.
What sets Consolidated Edison apart, however, is that on the electric front it is largely a middleman, focusing mostly on distribution, not on power generation. That means it basically gets paid a set amount no matter how much its customers are paying for the electricity they use.
Toll-taker businesses like this may not be exciting, but they provide steady returns. That's helped support the company's regular annual dividend increases since 1990. And a nearly 4.1% yield will help you sleep at night when the markets get choppy.
When it comes to investing, boring can be great. Kemper, Southern, and Consolidated Edison prove that point. You shouldn't expect share price gains of the type SolarCity has seen, but you also shouldn't have to deal with the harrowing price drops that often accompany such gains. Moreover, you'll get paid to stick around through thick and thin. If you're worried about the market, now's a good time to look at these anchor stocks.