There aren't too many investments in existence that are truly recession-proof. And even fewer are market-proof. U.S. government bonds, especially Treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS) and zero-coupon bonds -- the hedges I discussed in this article -- come quite close to being both.
But they are indeed safer than much of the rest of the market. Society needs these businesses to always operate, and so the government strives to guarantee that regulated utilities have at least some certainty in their businesses. This is achieved via setting up a regulated return on investment for a regulated utility.
Because utilities are largely domestic businesses, their results don't depend on currency fluctuations. This domestic focus will likely make this sector a safe harbor if (and when) the trade war, which seems to be heating up as we speak, emerges as a real threat to the economy.
Investors willing to invest in utilities have some options. They can buy one -- or several -- stocks of related companies, such as Dominion Energy (NYSE: D), for example.
They can also invest in a mutual fund or a low-cost exchange-traded fund (ETF). One popular option is Utilities Select Sector SPRD ETF (NYSE: XLU), at roughly $11 billion in size.
Or they can opt for a closed-end fund (CEF), like Wells Fargo Utilities and High Income Fund (NYSE: ERH) or Reaves Utility Income Fund (NYSE: UTG). Both deliver yields much higher than the 3% yield of XLU.
Coming from a small investment shop that specializes in utilities, UTG is quite an interesting fund. Yielding roughly 6% thanks to the use of leverage (only on about 20% of net assets), it's also my favorite option of the group
My Favorite Utility Fund
For income investors looking to potentially buy this fund, prepare to be surprised: UTG isn't simply a utility fund.
This might be something that turns away some "pure play" investors. I, however, like this feature of the fund. While it has enough utility companies to be considered a sector closed-end fund (and to generate income), the managers are not boxed into having to invest 100% of all assets into this sector.
Over time, the results of this investment policy have been quite good. We cannot say anything about the future based purely on the past, of course. But, with two leading managers having been with the fund for decades, consistency of management is there.
I also like the composition of the fund's portfolio. While UTG focuses on utility companies with the ability to grow at about 5%-7% annually, the fund also has a few telecommunication companies -- including wireless ones, media companies, transportation, and a small position in master limited partnerships (MLPs) -- in its portfolio.
The fund values research. Its experienced analysts focus their efforts on bottom-up research -- they start with a company, not with the market -- and identify those companies that can grow their dividends. Portfolio managers then evaluate research analysts' recommendations and determine whether or not -- and when -- to buy (or sell) a stock. Here, market conditions can become a factor. The fund's investments are constantly re-evaluated.
UTG does not have the highest levels of leverage among some of the closed-end funds you'll find, but it's just enough to both enhance returns and generate higher dividends, which are paid monthly.
Action To Take
Reaves Utility Income Fund (NYSE: UTG) is a still good choice for defensive-minded income investors. That's why my colleague Nathan Slaughter continues to hold it in the Daily Paycheck portfolio. In fact, since it was added in December 2009, between a rising price and steadily reinvesting dividends, readers are up by more than 220%...
But by thinking ahead with a defensive mindset, Daily Paycheck subscribers are no longer anxious about retirement. The portfolio generates more and more income every month, allowing our followers to either keep growing their income -- or flick the switch and start living a worry-free retirement.
You don't have to be anxious, either. Overall, the portfolio has been roughly 37% less volatile than the market. That represents 37% more sleep-filled nights.
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