By Marshall Hargrave
We have identified five stocks that pay high dividends with yields around 5%, a solid payout in today's low-yield environment. As well, these high-yielders all sport betas of 0.6 or less. Beta measures the correlation of a stock with the broader market. In our current less than certain macroeconomic environment, we are interested in stocks that will have relatively steady price performance. This is particularly enticing when pairing a low beta with a high dividend, where income investors can insulate themselves from market fluctuations. Our list of five stocks include lesser-known names, but we believe they might be gems for investors looking for some solid income and refuge from a volatile market.
The first company on our list is FirstEnergy Corp (FE). This electric utility holding company serves about 4.5 million customers in portions of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The stock's beta is 0.4 and it pays a dividend that yields 4.9%. The company is a steady performer that pays out over 80% of its earnings in dividends. As a result, we do not expect the company to grow at an enormous rate, but it will provide a stable cash flow to investors.
The company's 2011 acquisition of Allegheny Energy increased FirstEnergy's customer base by around 33%, and its energy generating capacity by over 65%. The synergistic cost savings of the acquisition was 28% greater than expected, with pre-tax savings of $270 million for 2011 versus the anticipated $210 million. Yet, the company was up over 10% on the year back in the summer, but is now flat year to date.
The poor housing market has also had a negative impact on FirstEnergy's performance, as well as the other utility companies outlined below. However, the most obvious reason for the lagging performance of the company is the above average weather temperatures. Goldman Sachs recently initiated coverage on FirstEnergy with a neutral rating and a price target of $47-the company currently trades around $45.50. As far as fund interest in the stock, there was modest ownerships from big names D.E. Shaw and Michael Messner, but the top owner by far was First Eagle Investment Management, with over 12.8 million shares.
PPL Corp (PPL) is a primary operator of electric utilities in Pennsylvania and Kentucky. The company has one of the lowest betas at 0.4 and one of the lowest payout ratios at 49%. The company's dividend represents a 4.9% yield. Operating EPS is expected to decline 11% in 2012, on the back of limited energy consumption due to abnormal weather, especially in its key markets of Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Much like FirstEnergy, PPL made a key acquisition by purchasing Western Power Distribution in 2011 that has not only provided synergies but also increased its bottom line. PPL's acquisition helps to increase its earnings from regulated operations and should provide even more stabilization going forward.
Most of our picks that are able to provide outsized dividends and stock price stability are in the utility industry, yet the next pick comes from the pharma world, GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK). GlaxoSmithKline trades at a discount to its major peers, Pfizer and Merck. GlaxoSmithKline has a P/E of 14, while Pfizer and Merck trade at P/E ratios of 22 each. Yet, GlaxoSmithKline pays the stoutest dividend by far of its peers, at 5.0%. The company's beta is 0.6 and it pays out 74% of its earnings in dividends. Sales are expected to be stable over the next five years as the company sees rebounds in its European operations-GlaxoSmithKline is also one of our picks for high yield pharma stocks with major catalysts.
Exelon Corp (EXC) has the highest dividend yield of the five stocks at 5.8%. The company has a high payout ratio of 89%, but a low beta of 0.5. Exelon is the holding company for energy providers like the Chicago-based ComEd, Philadelphia-based PECO Energy, and Baltimore Gas & Electric. Exelon is expected to see operating EPS decline 24% in 2012, with weakness in the power markets. Exelon merged with Constellation Energy in March, making the company the second largest electric and gas distributor in the U.S. The company also has nuclear generating units and widespread non-regulated electricity sales. The company saw various fund managers taking new stakes or upping their 1Q positions during 2Q. Billionaire Israel Englander upped his stake over 700% and Carlson Capital took a new position.
Our final stock pick comes from the energy sector, specifically in the natural gas industry. Enterprise Products Partners LP (EPD) has the highest payout ratio of the five stocks, at 94%, but the company is a master limited partnership and is required to pay out at least 90% of its earnings to avoid taxes. The beta on this stock is 0.6, and Enterprise pays a dividend that yields 4.8%. The company is an integrated provider of natural gas and natural gas liquids services. 2Q earnings came in at $0.64 versus the $0.51 estimates, and Enterprise continues to focus on bringing new capital projects online, including onshore crude oil facilities that should boost earnings in 2013. Admittedly, there was little fund interest in Enterprise outside of its top two fund owners. Jim Simons took a new position and Osterweis Capital had over 3% of its 13F portfolio invested in Enterprise at the end of 2Q.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.