Why Fund & Income Investors Are Drawn to Utilities (XLU, SO, EXC, D, IDU, RYU, CEG, NRG, NI, PCS, VZ, UPW, NEE, UTF, UTG, DNP, FSTUX, CMS, POR, RYAUX, FE, FKUTX, SRE)

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When the going gets tough, the tough often play defense — out of risky assets and into those assets that offer more security and some dividend upside. One choice is utilities, where investments are protected and dividend income is steady. We’ve taken a look at several utilities ETFs, closed-end funds, and mutual funds that answer the call both for defensive purposes and for yields.

The ETFs include Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYSE: XLU), iShares Dow Jones US Utilities (NYSE: IDU), Rydex S&P Equal Weight Utilities (NYSE: RYU), and Ulta Utilities ProShares (NYSE: UPW). The closed-end funds we looked at include Cohen & Steers Utility Fund Inc. (NYSE: UTF), Reaves Utility Income Fund (AMEX: UTG), Wells Fargo Advantage Utilities and High Income Fund (AMEX: ERH), and DNP Select Income Fund, Inc. (NYSE: DNP). The mutual funds we looked included Invesco Utilities Investor (FSTUX), Rydex Utilities (RYAUX), and Franklin Utilities A (FKUTX).

The utilities sector posts a price/earnings ratio of 18.50, higher than the tech, financial, conglomerates, and materials sectors. The sector’s return on equity is the lowest of all but the financial sector, but its dividend yield of 3.94% is higher than any other sector.

Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYSE: XLU) holds net assets of $4.33 billion and it’s year-to-date return is 6.81%, while its yield is 3.94%. XLU’s three largest holdings are Southern Company (NYSE: SO) at 8.32.% of assets, Exelon Corp. (NYSE: EXC), and Dominion Resources, Inc. (NYSE: D). The fund’s 52-week range is $27.92-$34.30, and it closed last week at $33.19. Shares are up about 18% in the past 12 months and about 19% from the annual low.

iShares Dow Jones US Utilities (NYSE: IDU) claims net assets of $511 million and its year-to-date return is 7.94%, while its yield is 3.57%. It’s three largest holdings are also Southern Company (6.39%), Exelon, and Dominion. The fund’s 52-week range is $67.94-$84.54, and it closed last week at $81.85. Shares are up nearly 20% in the past 12 months, and about the same from the annual low.

Rydex S&P Equal Weight Utilities (NYSE: RYU) has net assets of $24.5 million, and its year-to-date return is 7.48%, while its yield is 3.27%. Its top three holdings are Constellation Energy Group, Inc. (NYSE: CEG), which is being acquired by Exelon, at 2.7% of total assets, NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE: NRG), and NiSource Inc. (NYSE: NI). RYU also includes some communications stocks, such as MetroPCS Communications, Inc. (NYSE: PCS) and Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ). As its name would lead you to believe, its tenth-largest holding accounts for 2.54% of total assets. The fund’s 52-week range is $43.51-$56.28, and it closed last week at $54.47. Shares are up about 24% in the past 12 months and about 25% from the annual low.

ProShares Ultra Utilities (NYSE: UPW) has net assets of $14.45 million, and its year-to-date return is 15.65%, while its yield is 2.32%. Its top three holdings are Southern Company at 5.62%, Exelon, and NextEra Energy, Inc. (NYSE: NEE). The fund’s 52-week range is $32.19-$50.52, and it closed last week at $47.37. Shares are up about 45% in the past 12 months and about 47% from the annual low.