In the trash heap that is the stock market, one industry stands apart: utilities. Utility companies make up the most attractive sector by far, according to TheStreet.com Ratings' proprietary quantitative model, which takes a "safety-first" approach. In terms of points awarded by the model, utilities get 4.54 on a scale of one to 10, with the next closest industry, consumer staples, almost a full point behind. Even more appealing is the rate of change in those points over the past year. As industrials, materials and energy shares plummeted by 18%, 17%, and 18.75% in October, respectively, utilities declined just 9.4%. That has opened the quality gap between those industries, highlighting utilities as the most stable sector.
A Comparison of All Industries Far and Away the Leader
Drilling down, we can find the sub-industries that have outperformed others within utilities: electric, gas and multi-utilities. Upon further investigation, it turns out that those are higher in overall points than all but one: industrial professional services, which has only a handful of "buy"-rated companies. The utility industry as a whole, on the other hand, features 37 "buy"-rated stocks and only six "sells."
Sub-Sector Breakdown Focusing on the Niches
There are downsides to investing in utilities. The eventual market rebound probably will see these stocks rising more slowly than volatile sectors like technology. Also, profits remain tied to government regulations, so political decisions could erode margins. Still, utilities are worth considering. The best companies within the utilities sub-industries are New Jersey Resources ( NJR), NSTAR ( NST) and Xcel Energy ( XEL). New Jersey Resources rates the highest. The company deals in natural gas distribution in retail and wholesale markets. Over the past year, the company's stock has been blissfully immune to the market meltdown, with a beta value of 0.21. (One is a perfect correlation.) As the S&P 500 declined 44.9% over the past year, NJR has risen 8.5%, which makes the company sexy where it counts. With a dividend yield of 3.5% and an A grade from our model, this looks like a winner.