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Natural gas supplies have ballooned since the recession hit, causing prices to drop by more than a third since July.

Despite the price decline, some companies are still increasing earnings and dividends. Here's a small-cap utility to consider.

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Folsom, N.J.-based South Jersey Industries ( SJI) was formed in 1910 when Atlantic City Gas and Water merged with Atlantic City Gas, which was owned by Clarence Geist, who later became the largest utility investor in America. After a series of acquisitions, South Jersey Industries began to prosper.

That success continues today. The company's first-quarter profit climbed 28% to $31.6 million, or $1.06 a share, from a year earlier. Revenue rose 4% to $362 million.

South Jersey Industries has a forward-looking business model, with a hedging operation that locks in low commodity prices and a residential-installation group that retrofits houses and installs solar panels.

South Jersey Industries has boosted profits by using low gas prices to attract new customers. The company even applied for a 13% rate reduction on June 1. Oil-to-gas conversions at existing homes are helping the firm offset the lull in new-house construction.

Its Conservative Incentive Program identifies ways for customers to reduce energy consumption, enhancing client satisfaction and the company's public image.

The firm's commitment to shareholders is equally impressive. As other companies slashed payouts in 2008, South Jersey Industries increased its dividend by 10%. It plans to increase its payout by 6% to 7% a year.

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