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Utilities Hitting 52-Week Highs: What You Need to Know

Of course, if you're holding the shares of some successful individual utility companies like Integrys Energy Group (TEG), which also hit a 52-week high on Thursday, you may be less nervous about a sector correction.

Why? Because you're getting paid almost 5%, and if TEG corrects down to its May 7, 2012 intraday low of $53, you can add to your position with a yield-to-cost that would then exceed 5%.

Integrys' portfolio of regional utility and power companies is amazing. Integrys provides natural gas service and electricity to approximately 1,682,000 residential, commercial and industrial, transportation, and other customers in Chicago and the northern suburbs of Chicago, as well as other parts of the upper Midwest. It prides itself in paying a generous dividend to its shareholders, so it's no wonder that it is a big supporter of extending the favorable tax treatment for dividends.

Integrys sponsored a "Defend My Dividend" program , and is adamant about encouraging its shareholders to contact members of Congress to let them know that the double taxation of dividends is unfair and that they should support the current 15% tax rate.

Although utilities generate a steady stream of dividends, at current price levels, there may not be much upside growth for the price of their shares.

That's why income investors are turning to alternatives to utilities and some energy companies whose shares are below their 52-week highs and have both upside potential and a good yield.

Jim Cramer interviewed the CEO of Spectra Energy (SE - Get Report) on his "Mad Money" show last night. The company pays a 4% dividend at current price levels. It's also well below the 52-week high of $32.27 set in March of this year.

SE's shareholder-friendly Web site makes it clear why its natural gas business is so promising and is enhanced by its natural gas pipeline and storage businesses.

The company's CEO emphasized Spectra's involvement in a $1.2 billion project to bring more natural gas to northern New Jersey and New York City. He also pledged to keep raising the dividend payout as much as possible in the years ahead.

A "quasi-utility" company that also pays a handsome dividend is energy giant ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report). With its shares selling at or near $54, and a $2.64 annual dividend, investors can enjoy nearly a 4.9% dividend yield.

COP completed the spinoff of its downstream businesses to its stockholders last month in the form of shares of Phillips 66 (PSX). With the completion of this transaction, ConocoPhillips is now the world's largest independent exploration and production company, based on proved reserves and production of liquids and natural gas.
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