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If you want to get defensive, you can't do much better than
Duke Energy(DUK - Get Report), one of the biggest regulated electric and gas utilities in the country. Duke operates in six states, providing gas and electric service to 7.1 million customers.
To be fair, Duke does have some overseas exposure: It owns hydroelectric generation plants in Latin America and a methanol joint venture in Saudi Arabia. But currency risks are mitigated by the fact that the cash those international businesses generate is tied to commodity prices, and more important, the costs of running them are sourced in those home currencies, not the dollar.
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So while international assets have generated strong cash for Duke in the past few years, the firm's bread and butter remains its regulated utility business. Like most regulated utilities, Duke earns stable, consistent earnings from its regulated businesses, resulting in a hefty dividend payout that currently weighs in at 4.69%. And better still, even though Duke operates in a capital-intense business, cash coverage is more than sufficient to support a bigger dividend in 2012.
Duke has had a history of winning rate hikes from its regulators. If the firm can continue to keep those increases in the future, profits should continue to expand, especially as Duke reaps the cost savings benefits of its merger with Progress Energy.
I also featured Duke earlier this month in "
7 Dividend Stocks That Want to Pay You More Cash."