If there is one sector more boring that telecom, it's utilities. Though many are big dividend payers, there's little excitement in owning an electricity company. Making matters worse, the utility sector saw earnings dip 0.4% in the fourth quarter, according to FactSet Research. Looking ahead, utilities are the only sector expected to see earnings shrink in 2012, with analysts' estimates calling for a 3.2% slide.

Despite those negatives, utility stocks have been the best performers this year on the S&P 500, climbing 14.8% in 2011. Boring and unsexy is much more palatable if it means getting a big return. However, that success hasn't carried over into 2012, with the utilities sector down 4.2% through Feb. 15.

David Shaw's hedge fund was one buyer of utilities during the quarter. DE Shaw upped its stake in companies like Northeast Utilities ( NU), Constellation Energy ( CEG), FirstEnergy ( FE) and CenterPoint Energy ( CNP), among several others. Leon Cooperman made a bet on NRG Energy ( NRG) during the quarter.

Meanwhile, Moore Capital was a seller of utility stocks such as PPL Corp. ( PPL), Westar Energy ( WR), Consolidated Edison ( ED) and Pinnacle West ( PNW). Paulson & Co. made a big sale of Genon Energy ( GEN) during the quarter. York Capital Management dumped a large stake in CenterPoint during the quarter.

Quant fund Renaissance Technologies liquidated 21 positions in utilities stocks during the quarter, selling shares of Southern Company ( SO), PG&E ( PCG), Pinnacle West, and Duke Energy ( DUK), among others.

>>To see these stocks in action, visit the Utilities Stocks Bought and Sold by Hedge Funds portfolio on Stockpickr.

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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