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Factors That Make Southern Company an Enticing Stock Now

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Utilities are one of the safest investment bets due to their domestic focus and mostly regulated assets. The demand for utilities remains immune to the vagaries of the economy, which assure steady performance of mature utility companies. One such utility player is Southern Company (SO - Free Report) , which has what it takes to catch investors’ attention and is worth giving a shot now, courtesy of its strategic strides, splendid earnings surprise record and impressive dividend payouts. Driven by such tailwinds, shares of Southern Company have rallied 17% over the past year. On a year-to-date basis, the company’s shares have increased around 20%, outperforming the industry’s gain of 9.2%.

We are positive on the company’s prospects and believe that the time is right for you to add the stock to your portfolio as it looks promising and is poised to carry the momentum ahead. Let's find out what makes this Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) company an attractive investment option at the moment. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

AGL Buyout is a Big Positive

Southern Company, which is mainly focused on power generation and electricity distribution, serves the attractive Southeast market with a wide customer base. Its foray into natural gas also bodes well.

In 2016, the buyout of energy services holding company, AGL Resources Inc., had helped Southern Company to significantly increase its customer base, while diversifying business by adding gas-distribution assets. Focus on natural gas is likely to help the utility gain significant operational and commercial synergies in the long run. The company aims to invest around $6 billion in its state-regulated gas portfolio through 2022.

Divestment Deals for Portfolio Optimization and Debt Reduction

Last year, Southern Company had entered into a couple of big divestment deals with NextEra Energy, Inc. (NEE - Free Report) and Global Atlantic Financial Group worth $6.5 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively. The agreements have helped the utility to streamline its portfolio, andraise cash to repay debts and pay for the new reactors for the Vogtle Project.

Ambitious Vogtle Project Survives Against All Odds

Last September, the clouds of uncertainty looming over Southern Company’s Vogtle Plant finally gave way to sunshine. After prolonged delays and days of negotiation, all the four owners voted to proceed with the construction of the project, which marked a huge step toward strengthening America's nuclear energy security. On completion of the project, Southern Companywill become the biggest generator of carbon-free electricity in the United States and will boast an asset that produces cheap electricity for decades.

The project has got huge support and encouragement from the government in the form of loan guarantees of around $12 billion, whichwill help the utility reduce financing costs. Markedly, the Vogtle plant in Georgia is the only nuclear project that is currently under construction in the United States. The Vogtle plant will make the United States nuclear competitive, helping the nation to catch up with the likes of Russia and China.

Impressive Track Record of Dividend Hike

Utility stocks are very popular among investors since these companies manage to generate consistent profits and reward their shareholders with high dividends. Southern Company is no exception in this regard. The company has been a windows-and-orphan stock with a long history of regular reliable dividends, and strong portfolio of state-regulated electric and gas utilities. The company boasts a regular distribution record since 1948 and has managed to improve its payout for 18 consecutive years. The annual dividend yield is around 4.7%.

Just a day back, the company announced a 8-cent hike in annual dividend to $2.48 per share.The quarterly dividend of the company will increase by 2 cents to 62 cents per share, payable on Jun 6, 2019 to stockholders of record as of May 20.

Positive Earnings Surprise and Northbound Estimates

Southern Company's less-volatile, recession-proof business model presents a unique opportunity to earn high returns, as is evident from its impressive earnings surprise history. The company has managed to outpacethe Zacks Consensus Estimate for earnings in each of the trailing eight quarters.

Earnings estimate revisions, which have a huge impact on stock prices, are going in the company’s favor. Annual estimates for Southern company have moved upward by two cents over the past two months, reflecting analysts’ confidence on the stock.The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2020 has also moved up by 3 cents over the same time frame.

Looking for More? Check These Utility Picks

Otter Tail Corporation (OTTR - Free Report) ,with a long-term EPS growth rate of 7%, sports a Zacks Rank #1.

Atlantica Yield PLC (AY - Free Report) , with a Zacks Rank #2, hasa long-term earnings per share growth rate of 20.2%.

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