NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Looking for a safe stock to put your money in that also can generate income?

Utilities stocks are generally considered safer investments, especially in times of market volatility. Add in some strong dividend yields and these stocks could be winners for investors looking for exposure to the sector.

These seven utilities stocks (not including telecom) have buy ratings with B- rating or better. They also have the highest annual dividend yields in the sector, according to TheStreet Ratings.

TheStreet Ratings, TheStreet's proprietary ratings tool, projects a stock's total return potential over a 12-month period including both price appreciation and dividends. Based on 32 major data points, TheStreet Ratings uses a quantitative approach to rating over 4,300 stocks to predict return potential for the next year. The model is both objective, using elements such as volatility of past operating revenues, financial strength, and company cash flows, and subjective, including expected equities market returns, future interest rates, implied industry outlook and forecasted company earnings.

Buying an S&P 500 stock that TheStreet Ratings rated a "buy" yielded a 16.56% return in 2014 beating the S&P 500 Total Return Index by 304 basis points. Buying a Russell 2000 stock that TheStreet Ratings rated a "buy" yielded a 9.5% return in 2014, beating the Russell 2000 index, including dividends reinvested, by 460 basis points last year.

Check out which companies made the list. And when you're done be sure to read about which large-cap stocks with big dividends you should also sell. Year-to-date returns are based on March 27, 2015 closing prices.

CNP Chart CNP data by YCharts

1. CenterPoint Energy Inc. (CNP - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, B-
Market Cap: $8.94 billion
Annual Dividend Yield: 4.55%
Year-to-date return: -12%

CenterPoint Energy, Inc. operates as a public utility holding company in the United States. The company was founded in 1882 and is headquartered in Houston, Texas.

"We rate CENTERPOINT ENERGY INC (CNP) a BUY. This is driven by some important positives, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, compelling growth in net income, reasonable valuation levels, notable return on equity and impressive record of earnings per share growth. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had generally high debt management risk by most measures that we evaluated."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • The revenue growth came in higher than the industry average of 2.8%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues slightly increased by 8.6%. Growth in the company's revenue appears to have helped boost the earnings per share.
  • The net income growth from the same quarter one year ago has significantly exceeded that of the S&P 500 and the Multi-Utilities industry. The net income increased by 55.8% when compared to the same quarter one year prior, rising from $113.00 million to $176.00 million.
  • Current return on equity exceeded its ROE from the same quarter one year prior. This is a clear sign of strength within the company. Compared to other companies in the Multi-Utilities industry and the overall market on the basis of return on equity, CENTERPOINT ENERGY INC has outperformed in comparison with the industry average, but has underperformed when compared to that of the S&P 500.
  • CENTERPOINT ENERGY INC reported significant earnings per share improvement in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. The company has demonstrated a pattern of positive earnings per share growth over the past two years. However, we anticipate underperformance relative to this pattern in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, CENTERPOINT ENERGY INC increased its bottom line by earning $1.42 versus $0.72 in the prior year. For the next year, the market is expecting a contraction of 25.4% in earnings ($1.06 versus $1.42).

 

 

PPL Chart PPL data by YCharts


2. PPL Corp. (PPL - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, A-
Market Cap: $22.3 billion
Annual Dividend Yield: 4.42%
Year-to-date return: -8.8%

PPL Corporation, an energy and utility holding company, generates, transmits, distributes, and sells electricity to wholesale and retail customers in the United States and the United Kingdom. It operates in four segments: U.K. Regulated; Kentucky Regulated; Pennsylvania Regulated; and Supply.

"We rate PPL CORP (PPL) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, compelling growth in net income, good cash flow from operations, notable return on equity and impressive record of earnings per share growth. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had generally high debt management risk by most measures that we evaluated."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • The revenue growth greatly exceeded the industry average of 10.6%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues rose by 42.7%. Growth in the company's revenue appears to have helped boost the earnings per share.
  • The net income growth from the same quarter one year ago has significantly exceeded that of the S&P 500 and the Electric Utilities industry. The net income increased by 809.2% when compared to the same quarter one year prior, rising from -$98.00 million to $695.00 million.
  • Net operating cash flow has increased to $775.00 million or 22.23% when compared to the same quarter last year. The firm also exceeded the industry average cash flow growth rate of -14.59%.
  • The return on equity has improved slightly when compared to the same quarter one year prior. This can be construed as a modest strength in the organization. Compared to other companies in the Electric Utilities industry and the overall market on the basis of return on equity, PPL CORP has outperformed in comparison with the industry average, but has underperformed when compared to that of the S&P 500.
  • PPL CORP reported significant earnings per share improvement in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. The company has demonstrated a pattern of positive earnings per share growth over the past year. However, we anticipate underperformance relative to this pattern in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, PPL CORP increased its bottom line by earning $2.38 versus $1.69 in the prior year. For the next year, the market is expecting a contraction of 5.3% in earnings ($2.26 versus $2.38).

TE ChartTE data by YCharts

3. Teco Energy (TE)
Rating: Buy, B
Market Cap: $4.58 billion
Annual Dividend Yield: 4.51%
Year-to-date return: -6.2%

TECO Energy, Inc., an electric and gas utility holding company, engages in the regulated electric and gas utility operations. The company was founded in 1899 and is headquartered in Tampa, Florida.

"We rate TECO ENERGY INC (TE) a BUY. This is driven by multiple strengths, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, good cash flow from operations and solid stock price performance. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • The revenue growth came in higher than the industry average of 2.8%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues rose by 23.7%. This growth in revenue does not appear to have trickled down to the company's bottom line, displayed by a decline in earnings per share.
  • Looking at where the stock is today compared to one year ago, we find that it is not only higher, but it has also clearly outperformed the rise in the S&P 500 over the same period, despite the company's weak earnings results. Looking ahead, unless broad bear market conditions prevail, we still see more upside potential for this stock, despite the fact that it has already risen over the past year.
  • TECO ENERGY INC's earnings per share declined by 35.3% in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently. But, we feel it is poised for EPS growth in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, TECO ENERGY INC increased its bottom line by earning $0.92 versus $0.88 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($1.10 versus $0.92).
  • Net operating cash flow has slightly increased to $158.60 million or 4.00% when compared to the same quarter last year. Despite an increase in cash flow, TECO ENERGY INC's cash flow growth rate is still lower than the industry average growth rate of 46.03%.
  • Even though the current debt-to-equity ratio is 1.46, it is still below the industry average, suggesting that this level of debt is acceptable within the Multi-Utilities industry. Even though the debt-to-equity ratio shows mixed results, the company's quick ratio of 0.22 is very low and demonstrates very weak liquidity.

 

 

SO Chart SO data by YCharts

4. Southern Co. (SO - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, B
Market Cap: $40.4 billion
Annual Dividend Yield: 4.70%
Year-to-date return: -10.4%

The Southern Company, together with its subsidiaries, operates as a public electric utility company.

"We rate SOUTHERN CO (SO) a BUY. This is driven by some important positives, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth and notable return on equity. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • Despite its growing revenue, the company underperformed as compared with the industry average of 10.6%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues slightly increased by 2.3%. This growth in revenue does not appear to have trickled down to the company's bottom line, displayed by a decline in earnings per share.
  • SOUTHERN CO's earnings per share declined by 34.0% in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently. But, we feel it is poised for EPS growth in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, SOUTHERN CO increased its bottom line by earning $2.18 versus $1.87 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($2.85 versus $2.18).
  • The return on equity has improved slightly when compared to the same quarter one year prior. This can be construed as a modest strength in the organization. When compared to other companies in the Electric Utilities industry and the overall market, SOUTHERN CO's return on equity is below that of both the industry average and the S&P 500.
  • In its most recent trading session, SO has closed at a price level that was not very different from its closing price of one year earlier. This is probably due to its weak earnings growth as well as other mixed factors. The stock's price rise over the last year has driven it to a level which is somewhat expensive compared to the rest of its industry. We feel, however, that other strengths this company displays justify these higher price levels.
  • The gross profit margin for SOUTHERN CO is currently lower than what is desirable, coming in at 26.41%. It has decreased from the same quarter the previous year. Along with this, the net profit margin of 7.46% trails that of the industry average.

 

 

SGU Chart SGU data by YCharts

5. Star Gas Partners LP (SGU - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, A
Market Cap: $391 million
Annual Dividend Yield: 5.01%
Year-to-date return: 12%

Star Gas Partners, L.P. operates as a home heating oil and propane distributor and services provider to residential and commercial customers in the United States.

"We rate STAR GAS PARTNERS -LP (SGU) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its attractive valuation levels, good cash flow from operations, solid stock price performance and largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • Net operating cash flow has significantly increased by 85.59% to -$13.42 million when compared to the same quarter last year. In addition, STAR GAS PARTNERS -LP has also vastly surpassed the industry average cash flow growth rate of -56.41%.
  • Looking at where the stock is today compared to one year ago, we find that it is not only higher, but it has also clearly outperformed the rise in the S&P 500 over the same period, despite the company's weak earnings results. Turning our attention to the future direction of the stock, it goes without saying that even the best stocks can fall in an overall down market. However, in any other environment, this stock still has good upside potential despite the fact that it has already risen in the past year.
  • STAR GAS PARTNERS -LP's earnings per share declined by 17.2% in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently. But, we feel it is poised for EPS growth in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, STAR GAS PARTNERS -LP increased its bottom line by earning $0.42 versus $0.36 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($0.63 versus $0.42).
  • The current debt-to-equity ratio, 0.44, is low and is below the industry average, implying that there has been successful management of debt levels. Although the company had a strong debt-to-equity ratio, its quick ratio of 0.72 is somewhat weak and could be cause for future problems.

 

 

APU Chart APU data by YCharts

6. AmeriGas Partners LP (APU - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, B
Market Cap: $4.44 billion
Annual Dividend Yield: 7.45%
Year-to-date return: -0.35%

AmeriGas Partners, L.P. operates as a retail and wholesale distributor of propane gas, and related equipment and supplies in the United States. AmeriGas Partners, L.P. was founded in 1994 and is based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

"We rate AMERIGAS PARTNERS -LP (APU) a BUY. This is driven by a few notable strengths, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. Among the primary strengths of the company is its solid stock price performance. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • APU, with its decline in revenue, underperformed when compared the industry average of 1.8%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues fell by 15.0%. Weakness in the company's revenue seems to have hurt the bottom line, decreasing earnings per share.
  • Compared to where it was a year ago today, the stock is now trading at a higher level, regardless of the company's weak earnings results. Looking ahead, the stock's rise over the last year has already helped drive it to a level which is relatively expensive compared to the rest of its industry. We feel, however, that the other strengths this company displays justify these higher price levels.
  • AMERIGAS PARTNERS -LP has experienced a steep decline in earnings per share in the most recent quarter in comparison to its performance from the same quarter a year ago. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently. We feel it is likely to report a decline in earnings in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, AMERIGAS PARTNERS -LP increased its bottom line by earning $1.80 versus $1.43 in the prior year. For the next year, the market is expecting a contraction of 28.8% in earnings ($1.28 versus $1.80).
  • The company, on the basis of change in net income from the same quarter one year ago, has significantly underperformed when compared to that of the S&P 500 and the Gas Utilities industry. The net income has significantly decreased by 129.3% when compared to the same quarter one year ago, falling from $134.90 million to -$39.57 million.
  • The debt-to-equity ratio is very high at 2.13 and currently higher than the industry average, implying increased risk associated with the management of debt levels within the company. Along with this, the company manages to maintain a quick ratio of 0.48, which clearly demonstrates the inability to cover short-term cash needs.

 

SPH Chart SPH data by YCharts

7. Suburban Propane Partners LP (SPH - Get Report)
Rating: Buy, B-
Market Cap: $2.59 billion
Annual Dividend Yield: 8.12%
Year-to-date return: -0.5%

Suburban Propane Partners, L.P., through its subsidiaries, engages in the retail marketing and distribution of propane, fuel oil, and refined fuels. The company was founded in 1945 and is based in Whippany, New Jersey.

"We rate SUBURBAN PROPANE PRTNRS -LP (SPH) a BUY. This is driven by multiple strengths, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its good cash flow from operations, increase in stock price during the past year and notable return on equity. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had generally high debt management risk by most measures that we evaluated."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • Net operating cash flow has significantly increased by 707.61% to $33.61 million when compared to the same quarter last year. In addition, SUBURBAN PROPANE PRTNRS -LP has also vastly surpassed the industry average cash flow growth rate of -56.41%.
  • Compared to where it was 12 months ago, the stock is up, but it has so far lagged the appreciation in the S&P 500. Looking ahead, unless broad bear market conditions prevail, we still see more upside potential for this stock, despite the fact that it has already risen over the past year.
  • SUBURBAN PROPANE PRTNRS -LP's earnings per share declined by 5.2% in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently. But, we feel it is poised for EPS growth in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, SUBURBAN PROPANE PRTNRS -LP increased its bottom line by earning $1.55 versus $1.44 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($2.16 versus $1.55).
  • SPH, with its decline in revenue, underperformed when compared the industry average of 1.8%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues fell by 19.6%. The declining revenue appears to have seeped down to the company's bottom line, decreasing earnings per share.
  • The return on equity has improved slightly when compared to the same quarter one year prior. This can be construed as a modest strength in the organization. When compared to other companies in the Gas Utilities industry and the overall market, SUBURBAN PROPANE PRTNRS -LP's return on equity is below that of both the industry average and the S&P 500.