Utility Offers Safe Income, Growth Potential

09/19/2011 11:20 am EST


A solid technical and fundamental picture coupled with a safe, steadily rising dividend makes Southern Co. (SO) a smart buy for traders and investors in the current conditions.

During these turbulent economic times, many traders and investors may find themselves reacting defensively to safeguard their market fortunes. One of the best defensive moves an investor can make is to choose fundamentally strong, high-yielding dividend stocks.

That’s why over the course of the next several weeks, I’ll highlight a carefully researched selection of some of the best high-yielding stocks I’ve found in the market.

One of these dividend-paying gems is Southern Co. (SO). A 100-year-old blue-chip utility, Southern is one of the largest producers of electricity in the US, providing power to 4.4 million customers across Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia.

Not only does the company operate Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, and Mississippi Power, it also owns three nuclear plants, as well as wireless and fiber optic services.

With a recent boost in electricity demand, the stock appears to be charged up.

From a technical viewpoint, SO is on a major uptrend. Over the past two years, shares have gained roughly 50%, rising from a low of around $28 to their current high near $42.

From June 2010 through May 2011, the stock formed a large ascending triangle pattern, represented by the major uptrend line and resistance near $37.

Click to Enlarge

Bullishly breaking this pattern, the stock continued surging upward, forming a second smaller ascending triangle pattern, marked by the major uptrend line and resistance near $40.

Recently surpassing this resistance level, shares have been making steady gains and just last week hit a new 52-week high near $42.

As we saw with the first ascending triangle, when the pattern is bullishly broken, the trend is usually up.

The measuring principle for the triangle, which is calculated by adding the height of the triangle ($40.39-$37.70=$2.69) to the breakout level ($40.39), shows shares could easily reach a target price of $43.08 ($2.69+$40.39). However, with no nearby historical resistance in sight, SO could power up much further.

From a fundamental perspective, the company also appears solid.

In the first half of 2011, Southern’s revenue increased 2% from the year-ago period to $8.53 billion. A boost in electricity demand created by improved regional manufacturing exports helped drive the gain.

For 2011, the 21 analysts following the company expect revenue to increase about 3% to $18 billion, up from $17.5 billion last year. By 2012, revenue is projected to notch up a further 5%, to $18.8 billion.

The earnings picture is similar. Although higher depreciation and amortization costs coupled with a rise in the number of outstanding shares caused earnings per share to dip slightly in the first half of the year, earnings are expected to pick back up. Analysts project full-year earnings will increase to $2.54 a share, up from $2.37 a share last year. By 2012, they are expected to rise a further 6.3% to $2.70.

With a history of strong earnings, the utility has paid a dividend for 254 straight quarters, since 1948, and has raised the dividend for the tenth straight year. The forward annual dividend yield is an attractive 4.5%.

Given the solid technical and fundamental picture, combined with the attractive dividend, Southern appears to be a good pick for investors looking to add robust, high-yielding stocks to their portfolios.

By Deborah O’Malley, contributor, InvestorPlace.com

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