In 2013 the last stocks anybody wanted to own were utilities. This year, they are one of only three sectors that are positive so far on the year. While utilities are typically the stocks that are placed in very conservative portfolios, usually for the income generation, this year they could be the stocks that generate huge revenues. This year’s frigid, and in some cases record cold, temperatures could drive big numbers for the top stocks to buy, at least in the early going of 2014.
The cold start to winter has led to spiking power demand and prices in PJM /NEPOOL (which are regional transmission organizations and interconnections in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest) that are well above recent years, opening up some earnings upside potential for competitive generators. In a new research report, the Utility analysts at Credit Suisse have attempted to model the earnings impacts based on observed power prices and expected generation output and customer load. They prefer exposure to generators that do not have retail, considering they have more confidence in power generation opportunity than the risk of spiking power prices faced by retailers.
Here are the top utilities stocks to buy now and take advantage of the Polar Vortex winter.
Calpine Corp. (NYSE: CPN) is a well-liked name at Credit Suisse. It was also one of the companies that participated in Gabelli & Company’s sixth annual best ideas conference. Calpine operates a portfolio of 92 power plants, including four under construction with an aggregate generation capacity of 27,321 megawatts (MW) and 1,163 MW under construction located in 20 states in the United States and Canada. The Thomson/First Call price target for the stock is posted at $22.29. Calpine closed Friday at $18.98.
Entergy Corp. (NYSE: ETR) is another top utility name to own. The company recently said that it expects its fourth-quarter net income to drop, hurt by the cost of closing its Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station. The company is expected to report earnings that are higher than current Wall Street estimates. Entergy said it still expects to earn $4.60 to $5.40 per share from operations in 2014, in line with Wall Street’s view. Investors are paid a solid 5.4% dividend. The consensus price target is set at $62.70. Entergy closed Friday at $63.03.
Exelon Corp. (NYSE: EXC) is another preferred name to buy at Credit Suisse. It may be another stock in which the Wall Street consensus may be too low for the stock. For current year earnings, the consensus has gone up by 0.4% in the past 30 days, thanks to three upward revisions in the past month. The company serves residential, commercial, industrial and wholesale customers and owns generation assets. It delivers electricity and natural gas to customers in central Maryland, northern Illinois and southeastern Pennsylvania. Shareholders are paid very good 4.4% dividend. The consensus price objective for the stock is $27.98, but Exelon closed Friday at $29.
NRG Energy Inc. (NYSE: NRG) is another well-known name to land on the Credit Suisse list. The company operates 89 fossil fuel plants, four utility-scale solar facilities, four wind farms and distributed solar facilities with 45,105 MW of fossil fuel and nuclear generation capacity and 1,270 MW of renewable generation capacity. Further, the company engages in the district energy business with steam and chilled water capacity of approximately 1,098 megawatts thermal equivalent. Investors receive a lower 1.8% dividend. The consensus price target is $32.18. NRG closed Friday at $27.85
Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. (NYSE: PEG) operates nuclear, coal, gas and oil-fired generation facilities with a generation capacity of approximately 13,226 megawatts. It sells electricity, natural gas, capacity, emissions credits and a series of energy-related products that are used to optimize the operation of the energy grid. The company also engages in the transmission of electricity and distribution of electricity and natural gas to residential, commercial and industrial customers, as well as invests in the development of solar generation projects and implements demand response and energy efficiency programs. Investors receive a very good 4.4% dividend. The consensus price target for the stock is $33.47. It closed Friday near that at $33.34.
PPL Corp. (NYSE: PPL) rounds out the preferred utility names at Credit Suisse. The company is among the leading utility companies in the United States that intend to increase regulated operations and lower earnings volatility attached to competitive operations. Also, the company has diverse geographical operations, with operations in the United Kingdom and the United States. Investors receive another solid dividend, which comes in at 4.9%. The consensus price target for the stock is set at $32.86. PPL closed Friday at $30.57.
While utilities are hardly the momentum trader’s dream, they are solid additions to any portfolio and could have big upside after the coldest winter in years. Plus, if you are an investor worried about a serious market correction, there is no better place to be than in these stocks. When the market drops big, investors run to the safety and liquidity of the utility sector.