Utilitiesstocks occupy a unique niche in theinvestment world. No
one who wants to get rich buyingshares of
Duke Energy (
is expecting to double theirmoney in a few months. That's
because stocks in this heavily-regulated industry tend to be
predictable and rarely produce outsized gains.
If you are a dividend investor, however, then utilities
stocks have alot tooffer .
market goes down.
In addition, utility stocks were heavily penalized last year
by falling energy prices and the elimination of the Bush-era tax
cuts, which reduced the after-tax value of their dividends. As a
result, investors who buy utility shares now may benefit from
share price gains as well as rich yields.
Here is a look at the five highest-yielding utilities.
Just Energy (
is a reseller of natural gas and electricity with
operations in the United States, Canada and the United
Kingdom. The company sells fixed-price or price-protected
energy supply contracts to about 4 million customers.
But extremely high dividend yields are often a sign that
something is amiss, and such is the case with Just Energy.
The dividend payout has exceeded 150% of the
company's cash flow in the past 12 months,
which puts the dividend at risk to be
Another red flag is Just Energy's high
customer churn rates. Customer attrition has averaged 14%
in the past year, while renewal rates for expiring
contracts average only 70%.
During the six months ended last September, Just
Energy's Funds from Operations (FFO) declined
24% to $64.7 million from one year earlier. The company is
also highly leveraged, with debt of $955 million,
representing more than eight times annual cash flow. Just
Energy pays dividends monthly at a $1.24 annual rate and
has a poor record for dividend growth.
American Midstream Partners
American Midstream Partners (
provides natural gas gathering, processing and
transportation services to customers in the Gulf Coast and
Southeastern United States. This growth-focused master
limited partnership (MLP) acquired two
processing plants last year and is building facilities
that will serve producers at the Woodbine field
in East Texas.
Lower volumes due to Hurricane Isaac and scheduled plant
downtime resulted in a modest decline in EBITDA ,
which reached $14.7 million during the first nine months of
2012 from $14.9 million in the same period a year earlier.
Distributable cash flow of $8.7 million provided only 72%
coverage of the dividend.
Despite a weak 2012, analysts say capacity additions and
a return to normalized volume will fuel
three-fold earnings growth for American
Midstream in 2014 and 6% annual growth for the next five
American Midstream went public in July 2011 and pays
dividends quarterly at a $1.73 annual rate.
Atlantic Power (
is a Canadian utility that sells electricity to large
commercial customers under long-term purchase contracts.
The company generates 2,117 megawatts of mostly
natural-gas-based power from generating plants in the
United States and Canada.
Atlantic Power has grown through acquisitions. Last
year, it merged with Capital Power Income, thereby almost
doubling in size. Due to high depreciation
charges, Atlantic Power is not currently profitable,
but the company expects to turn a profit in
2014. But EBITDA, a more important cash flow measure, rose
134% to $231.8 million during the first nine months of 2012
from a year earlier. Management has confirmed
full-year guidance for dividend payout from cash
flow in a 90-97% range, suggesting the dividend is
Rising debt is a concern with this company, though. At
present, Atlantic Power has $1.9 billion in debt, which
amounts to more than 15 times annual cash flow of $112
million. The company pays dividends monthly at a $1.16
annual rate. The dividend was increased 5% last year at the
time of the Capital Power merger .
Suburban Propane Partners
Suburban Propane Partners (SPH)
is an MLP that provides propane, kerosene and other
fuels to homes and businesses. The $1.9
billion acquisition of the retail propane
Inergy LP (Nasdaq: NRGY)
last year effectively doubled the company's size and
expanded its geographic reach in the Midwest United States.
Suburban Propane is currently the country's third-largest
propane marketer, as measured by retail gallons sold.
Last year was extremely challenging for Suburban
Propane. Unusually warm temperatures affected volume and
triggered a nearly 20% decline in propane prices. As a
result, the company's fiscal 2012 EBITDA for the year ended
in September plummeted 40% to $108.5 million from the same
period in 2011. Suburban Propane couldn't cover $121
million of distributions from cash flow, instead relying
on funds secured by issuing additional
The board increased the distribution 3% last year to a
new annual rate of $3.50 per share, which takes effect in
the first quarter of fiscal 2013.
Amerigas Partners LP
Amerigas Partners (APU)
is the United States' largest propane distributor and
serves more than 2 million businesses and homes. The
company began as the industry's dominant player last year
by acquiring Heritage Propane in a $2.9 billion deal. The
Heritage acquisition also brought the company the financial
resources of a powerful new partner, Heritage's former
Energy Transfer Partners (ETP)
, who currently owns 32% of Amerigas Partners.
Reflecting the immediate benefits of the merger, this
MLP's fiscal 2012 EBITDA for the year ending in September
rose 15% to $384.2 million from a year ago. Amerigas
Partners easily covered $272 million of distribution
payments last year and management expects fiscal 2013
EBITDA to exceed $630 million, assuming normal temperatures
and propane consumption in this year's heating
The company has a good record for growing distributions,
which have risen 40% in six years to an annual rate of
$3.20 per share today. The company also occasionally pays
special one-time dividends: $0.25 a share in 2007 and $0.17
a share in 2009.
Risks to Consider:
Three of these companies are MLPs and thus required to
distribute the majority of their income to investors. This means
they must 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 of depreciation 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
Action to Take -->
My top pick from this list is Amerigas Partners. This MLP offers
rising cash flow, strong coverage of its distribution and a great
track record for distribution growth. Atlantic Power is also a
good pick (albeit slightly more risky). Companies such as Just
Energy, Suburban Propane and American Midstream Partners, which
aren't covering their distributions from cash flow, are too risky
for my taste.
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.
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