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PPL Corporation (PPL), NextEra Energy, Inc. (NEE), Xcel Energy Inc (XEL): Three Utility Stocks to Buy

Low interest rates were the order of the day following the financial crisis of 2008, which made high-yielding utilities an attractive investment option for income-seeking investors. Utilities are low-beta businesses and offer good risk adjusted returns. Investors chased yields following the financial crises, which led to above-market average price multiples for utilities. Historically, utilities have traded at premium valuations when the 10-year Treasury yield has remained under 3%. A low interest rate environment is expected to prevail in the remainder 2013, with the 10-year yield currently around 2.8%.

However, moving into 2014 and beyond, Treasury yields are expected to rise, which could make utilities less attractive for investors. Hence, a rise in Treasury yields remains a headwind for the utility sector. There are some utilities that may outperform, however, given cheaper valuations and above-average dividend growth.

PPL Corporation (NYSE:PPL)High yield and attractive valuation

PPL Corporation (NYSE:PPL) is a utility company that offers a high dividend yield of 4.9%, making it an attractive stock for income-seeking investors. The company has a solid dividend history, and has been paying quarterly dividends for more than 260 consecutive quarters. Dividends offered by the company are expected to grow in future, in line with earnings growth; analysts are estimating five-year earnings growth of 5% per year for PPL Corporation (NYSE:PPL). In the last twelve years, PPL Corporation (NYSE:PPL) has increased dividends eleven times.  PPL Corporation (NYSE:PPL) is also trading on a cheaper forward P/E of 13.85x, in comparison to a forward P/E of 15.45x for the utility sector as a whole.

Capital expenditure (capex) incurred by any regulated utility company is recovered through rate case increases, which result in sales and earnings growth for a company. PPL Corporation (NYSE:PPL) anticipates its regulated rate base to grow by 7.9% from 2013–2017, which will have a positive impact on its future sales, earnings, and stock price.

Solid earnings and dividend growth

NextEra Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NEE) is involved in the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in the U.S. and Canada. The company has a generational capacity of approximately 41,000 MW and serves electricity to 8.9 million people in Florida. High growth prospects, strong cash flows and limited regulatory risks make NextEra Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NEE) likely to outperform the utility sector.

Analysts have estimated an attractive five years growth rate of 6.5% for the company. Currently, the company offers a decent dividend yield of 3.3% with a payout ratio of 62%, which is lower than the industry average of almost 70%. The dividend offered is expected to grow along with earnings growth; also, the payout ratio can be increased to achieve dividend growth higher than future earnings. NextEra Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NEE) also has healthy cash flows, evident from its high operating cash flow yield of 13%. Dividends offered by the company are sustainable, as the company has a lower payout ratio of 62%, and dividends are backed by a healthy operating cash flow yield of 13%.

Moreover, the company is exposed to limited regulatory risk, as it has acquired approval of a multiyear rate deal with permission of several rate case increases for the next four years, and there are no significant pending rate cases. Due to the factors mentioned above, NextEra Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NEE) is expected to deliver superior performance in comparison to its peers, and remains a good investment option.

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