Utilities pay some of the safest and highest dividends on Wall Street. But they’re stocks, not substitute investments for bonds.
Those who’ve tried to treat them like bonds have consistently underestimated their returns in bull markets, as well as downside in bear markets. Similarly, those who’ve bought when interest rates were falling and sold when rates have risen have routinely paid too much and sold too cheaply. And occasionally as in 2008, they’ve had their heads handed to them.
It’s been mere days since Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) announced it will buy Vodafone PLC’s (London: VOD, NYSE: VOD) 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless. And scores of articles and opinions have already been posted.
That’s understandable. At roughly $130 billion, only Vodafone’s takeover of Mannesmann and AOL’s (NYSE: AOL) purchase of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) rank larger in dollars. And both of those deals went off at the inflated valuations of the 1999-2000 generational top for technology and telecom.
August was a down month for utilities and other essential services companies—likewise the broad stock market. That continues a trend beginning in late April, when fears first stirred of an end to Federal Reserve easing.
Since then, the Fed has not changed policy. But the markets have acted as though much higher interest rates are a done deal. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury Note yield has nearly doubled. And expectations are we’ll see it at 4 to 5 percent, as the precursor to a dramatic, across the board rise in rates.
Big picture themes always grab investing headlines. Success, however, flows from knowing what’s up with individual companies.
Regulated water utilities, for example, are on their face the very simplest and uniform of businesses. Yet so far in 2013, returns from the 10 companies I track in the Utility Report Card have ranged from a 26 percent gain to barely breaking even.
There weren't any big surprises in our Focus List earnings reports this quarter, which is the way we like it. But there are a lot of bargains in all three portfolios that you can move into now. The story of essential service stocks is just beginning.
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Roger's current take and vital statistics on more than 200 essential-services stocks.