The S&P 1500 Utilities Index is up 11% so far this year, making it the fourth-best performer amo...
01/07/2014 5:00 am EST
Our favorite aggressive idea for the coming year is a utility firm that provides electricity and natural gas, by contract, to 3.5 million customers in Queensland, New South Wales (NSW), Victoria, and South Australia, explains Roger Conrad, editor of Conrad's Utility Forecaster.
AGL Energy (AU:AGK) (OTC:AGLNY) shares dropped more than 18% in 2013. That decline was entirely due, however, to weakness in the Australian dollar, which plunged to a multi-year low of barely 88 US cents in late December 2013.
In local currency terms, AGL Energy was actually, slightly in the black for the year. More importantly, its underlying business continued to grow, funding a steady dividend increase of 3%.
The company owns and operates 6 GW of power plant capacity serving these areas, including 1.74 GW of renewable energy. And it explores for, and produces natural gas, primarily from coal seam assets.
AGL boosted full year fiscal 2014 (ending June 30) underlying profit by 24.1%. Growth is expected to be slower in FY2015, but the company continues to add retail customers as new markets open to competition, build renewable energy assets (including 155 megawatts of solar facilities), and make profitable acquisitions, such as the heavily-discounted Loy Yang plant.
Loy Yang profits could get a major boost when newly-elected Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Liberal National coalition implements its “Green Paper.” The policy would create a system that's considerably easier for energy producers, like AGL, to follow.
An Emissions Reduction Fund would award credits to companies that cut pollution faster than their peers, a race AGL has a head start in, thanks to rapid development of renewables. It should also benefit from a rollback of penalties on coal power plants, cutting costs for Loy Yang.
As for the Australian dollar, the country's resource story is still very much intact. And, as demand in Asian markets outside China grows—including liquefied natural gas exports that will ramp up in 2014—the currency should recover its strength. That will boost Australian stocks like AGL, just as currency declines took them down in 2013.
Buy AGL Energy up to USD15, using its American Depositary Receipt. Australia withholds 15% of dividends paid to US residents, which you can recover by filing a Form 1116 with your US taxes. Dividends are paid twice annually, so be sure to buy before the next ex-dividend date, which should be on, or about, March 3.
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