Wednesday, February 25, 2009

* Utilities For A Well-Rounded Dividend Investment Portfolio

A well-rounded dividend investment portfolio just doesn't happen by accident. As noted in Charlie Munger’s 10 Rules for Investment Success, “Allocate assets wisely: Proper allocation of capital is an investor’s No. 1 job.” It is human nature to want to jump on the what's hot bandwagon and ignore what is considered boring, like utilities.

Long considered the domain for "widows and orphans", utilities have developed a somewhat stodgy reputation. Why are utilities considered good for widows and orphans? Here a few reasons:
  1. They are generally less volatile than the market as a whole (low beta)
  2. Their products are something that people continue to need and use no matter what the economy is doing, thus
  3. Their dividends tend to be more stable and secure
Utilities would be the perfect dividend income investment, except for one thing - they tend to have low dividend growth rates. As such, you wouldn't want a whole portfolio of utilities and you need to be very selective in which utilities are added, and when they are purchased. In my personal allocation, utilities are limited to a maximum of 10% of my portfolio (currently, they make up 3.7% of my total investment portfolio).

In addition to the regular buy criteria, I look for a higher yield when buying utilities, generally greater than 5.5%, but I really prefer around 6%. This eliminates many utilities, but there are still several from my Stock Ideas page that might be worth an additional look. Here is a list of all the utilities that have paid a dividend for more than 25 years and have a yield of 5.5% or greater:

Vectren Corp. (VVC) - 6.23% Yield
This energy holding company, headquartered in Evansville, IN, provides natural gas and electric energy to more than one million customers in Indiana and Ohio. It also offers energy related products and services to customers throughout the Midwest and Southeast. It has increased its dividend for 49 consecutive years. It last increased its dividend in November 2008.

Consolidated Edison (ED) - 6.29% yield
This electric and gas utility holding company serves parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. With its February 2009 dividend increase, ED has now increased its dividend for the last 36 consecutive years. (most recent analysis)

Otter Tail Corp. (OTTR) - 6.35% yield
The company produces, distributes and sells electric energy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota and has interests in health services, manufacturing and other businesses. OTTR missed is normal dividend increase in February 2009. Instead, the company left its dividend flat with 2008. The last time OTTR increased its dividend was February 2008.

Integrys Energy Group (TEG) - 7.27% yield
This utility holding company serves about 485,000 regulated electric and 1,674,000 regulated gas customers. The company also operates an unregulated energy supply and services business. With its February 2009 dividend increase, TEG has now increased its dividend for the last 51 consecutive years. (most recent analysis)

Black Hills Corp. (BKH) - 7.48% yield
This diversified South Dakota-based holding company encompasses electric utility and integrated energy businesses. With its February 2009 dividend increase, BHK has now increased its dividend for the last 40 consecutive years. Prior to this last increase, the company went five quarter with no increase dating back to November 2007.

Of the five utilities listed above, I would not consider OTTR until the future dividend direction can be determined. BKH's late increase is a little concerning, but I could not disqualify it at this time. I own and am currently purchasing TEG and ED as their valuations and my allocations allow.

Finally, looking at current and some historic returns over shorter periods of time, certain utilities have done quite well. Remember, there is a reason the widows and orphans own them.

Full disclosure: Long ED, TEG

Tags: [BKH] [ED] [OTTR] [TEG] [VVC]