Forget Exxon & BP: This Retirement Savings Stock Yields 7%

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With interest rates still near record lows,dividend stocks remain one of the only options available for income-hungry investors -- especially those at or nearing retirement. Thankfully, there are plenty of options out there. We at StreetAuthoritycall the best of the best "Retirement Savings Stocks."

A great place to findhedge againstinflation , which could make a comeback as theeconomy picks up steam. 

The only problem is that demand for energy stocks has bid up the prices on prominent stocks to levels that make their yields less appealing. For example, theyield on ExxonMobil ( XOM ) shares has fallen below 3%. So with many of the better-known energy names already looking overpriced, a better strategy may be to consider lesser-known stocks.  

The "Retirement SavingsStock " Yielding 7%
AmeriGas Partners L.P. ( APU ) may be aninvestment you should consider. This energymaster limited partnership (MLP) is small when compared to industry giants such as BP ( BP ) and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A) , but pays a much larger dividend: shares yield 7%, in fact.  

In addition, while not as well-known as the oil majors, Amerigas Partners is no start-up. This company has rapidly grown to become the largest propane distributor in the United States, supplying propane fuel to more than 2 million businesses and homes in all 50 states. Many may be familiar with the small propane tanks used for backyard barbeques, but propane is also widely used for heating and in industrial uses such as powering machinery. Amerigas Partners offers geographicdiversification and a low-riskbusiness model , providing necessary fuel for millions of businesses. 

Now may be the perfect time to purchase shares since the company is gaining synergies and increasing scale following a majoracquisition . In January 2012, Amerigas Partners became the industry's dominant player by acquiring Heritage Propane, the nation's third-largest propane supplier, in a $2.9 billion deal. The Heritage purchase extends Amerigas Partner's distribution network to 1,200 locations, increases annual salesvolume by 500 million gallons (60%) and doubles the size of the retail customer base. Its larger sizewill enhance Amerigas Partner'searnings by expandingmarket share and boosting margins on gallons sold. The company also has opportunities for even more growth through smaller bolt-on acquisitions. 

The Heritage acquisition also brought Amerigas Partners the financial resources of a powerful new partner, Heritage's former owner, Energy Transfer Partners ( ETP ) . Energy Transfer Partners now owns 32% of the MLP. Another 26% is owned by thegeneral partner , UGICorporation ( UGI ) , which has more than $6 billion in annual sales.

Financial Results
Amerigas Partner's financial results for the first nine months of fiscal 2012 already show some of the benefits from themerger . The company recorded a higher seasonalnet loss for the June 2012 quarter because of acquisition-related charges and warmer-than-usual spring weather. Butcash flow , the main driver of thepartnership 's distribution (dividend) growth, improved more than 9% to $350.2 million in the first nine months of 2012 from $320.7 million in the same period one year earlier. Management raised itsguidance for cash flow in fiscal 2013 by 4% from $620 million  to $640 million. 

Amerigas Partners expects to realize $60 million of synergies from the Heritage acquisition when the merger is completed this year. As a result of the acquisition,analysts are now predicting more than 11%-a-year growth in Amerigas Partner's earnings in the next five years, which is a much higher rate than the 8% growth forecast for industry peers and 9% growth for S&P 500 stocks.   

40% growth in dividends
The rise in earnings should also help Amerigas Partner's distribution coverage, with cash flow providing better than two-fold coverage of the distribution next year. Improved coverage should allow Amerigas Partners to continue to make acquisitions while easily delivering on its promise of 5% annual distribution growth. 

Amerigas Partners already has a good track record in this department. The annual distribution has risen from $2.24 seven years ago to $3.20 today; that's more than 40% growth. As a nice bonus for investors, the company has also occasionally paid special one-time dividends: 25 cents in 2007 and 17 cents in 2009. 

Risks to consider: MLPs are required to distribute the majority of their income to investors and rely on debt and dilutiveequity to make acquisitions. Investors should alsonote that MLP distributions are taxed asordinary income rather than at the lower dividend rate. But because ofdepreciation allowances, typically 80%-90% of the distribution is considered areturn of capital , which results intaxes on this portion being deferred until the MLP units are sold. Even better, the return of capital portion reduces thecost basis of the investment and thetax liability over time. And if an investor decides to sell MLP units sooner rather than later, then profits are taxed at the more favorable long-termcapital gains tax rate. Calculating the tax bill on a MLP investment can be complicated, so it may make sense to consult a tax professional.

Action to take --> Amerigas Partners isn't exactly cheap at the moment. Shares trade in line with the industry price-to-earnings (P/E ) ratio of 17. And at $42 per share, the stock is just 9% below the52-week high . Still, a generous 7% yield and superior safety (the stock'sbeta of just 0.4 means it is 60% less volatile than themarket ) makes this an attractive investment for any investor looking for a Retirement Savings Stock . Any pullback in the price should be viewed as an attractive entry point.



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

© Copyright 2001-2010 StreetAuthority, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


This article appears in: Investing , Investing Ideas , Stocks

Referenced Stocks: APU , BP , ETP , UGI , XOM

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