Southern (SO) Upgraded to “Buy” by Zacks Investment Research

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Zacks Investment Research upgraded shares of Southern (NYSE:SO) from a hold rating to a buy rating in a report released on Tuesday morning. Zacks Investment Research currently has $52.00 target price on the utilities provider’s stock.

According to Zacks, “One of the largest and best-managed electric utility holding companies in the United States, Southern company has maintained its excellent track record of earnings surprise history, beating estimates in each of the last seven quarters. It dominates the power business across the southeastern region. With good rate base growth and constructive regulation, it is expected to generate steady earnings and dividend growth in the coming years through long-term power contracts. Additionally, Southern Company's $12 billion AGL Resources buy has significantly increased its customer base and diversified offerings. Sporting a low beta – translating into less volatility – and a reasonable valuation, Southern Company is seen as an attractive investment.”

SO has been the subject of a number of other research reports. Mizuho restated a hold rating and set a $46.00 target price on shares of Southern in a research report on Tuesday, December 11th. UBS Group lifted their target price on shares of Southern from $46.00 to $47.00 and gave the stock a neutral rating in a research report on Monday, October 29th. Barclays boosted their price objective on shares of Southern from $48.00 to $49.00 and gave the company a hold rating in a research report on Monday, November 19th. Morgan Stanley cut their price objective on shares of Southern from $45.00 to $44.00 and set a sell rating for the company in a research report on Friday, September 21st. Finally, ValuEngine raised shares of Southern from a sell rating to a hold rating in a research report on Friday, October 19th. Five analysts have rated the stock with a sell rating, ten have assigned a hold rating and one has assigned a buy rating to the company. The stock currently has an average rating of Hold and an average price target of $46.29.

Shares of NYSE SO opened at $47.22 on Tuesday. The company has a quick ratio of 0.58, a current ratio of 0.72 and a debt-to-equity ratio of 1.48. Southern has a 52 week low of $42.38 and a 52 week high of $49.43. The stock has a market capitalization of $48.43 billion, a P/E ratio of 14.14, a P/E/G ratio of 3.47 and a beta of 0.07.

Southern (NYSE:SO) last announced its quarterly earnings data on Wednesday, November 7th. The utilities provider reported $1.14 EPS for the quarter, beating the Thomson Reuters’ consensus estimate of $1.07 by $0.07. Southern had a net margin of 10.35% and a return on equity of 12.88%. The firm had revenue of $6.70 billion during the quarter, compared to analysts’ expectations of $6.68 billion. During the same quarter last year, the business earned $1.12 earnings per share. The business’s revenue for the quarter was up 8.0% compared to the same quarter last year. As a group, research analysts anticipate that Southern will post 3.04 EPS for the current fiscal year.

The business also recently announced a quarterly dividend, which will be paid on Wednesday, March 6th. Investors of record on Tuesday, February 19th will be issued a $0.60 dividend. The ex-dividend date is Friday, February 15th. This represents a $2.40 dividend on an annualized basis and a yield of 5.08%. Southern’s payout ratio is 79.47%.

In other Southern news, insider Mark Lantrip sold 9,000 shares of the business’s stock in a transaction that occurred on Tuesday, December 4th. The shares were sold at an average price of $47.58, for a total transaction of $428,220.00. The transaction was disclosed in a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, which can be accessed through this link. Also, CEO Kimberly S. Greene sold 15,000 shares of the business’s stock in a transaction that occurred on Monday, December 3rd. The stock was sold at an average price of $47.03, for a total transaction of $705,450.00. Following the sale, the chief executive officer now owns 9,380 shares of the company’s stock, valued at $441,141.40. The disclosure for this sale can be found here. 0.73% of the stock is currently owned by insiders.

A number of institutional investors and hedge funds have recently added to or reduced their stakes in the business. Farmers Trust Co. boosted its stake in shares of Southern by 2.4% in the fourth quarter. Farmers Trust Co. now owns 12,938 shares of the utilities provider’s stock valued at $568,000 after purchasing an additional 300 shares during the period. Quadrant Capital Group LLC boosted its stake in shares of Southern by 23.2% in the fourth quarter. Quadrant Capital Group LLC now owns 1,899 shares of the utilities provider’s stock valued at $73,000 after purchasing an additional 357 shares during the period. Griffin Asset Management Inc. boosted its stake in shares of Southern by 0.7% in the third quarter. Griffin Asset Management Inc. now owns 53,323 shares of the utilities provider’s stock valued at $2,325,000 after purchasing an additional 384 shares during the period. First National Bank of Mount Dora Trust Investment Services boosted its stake in shares of Southern by 4.5% in the fourth quarter. First National Bank of Mount Dora Trust Investment Services now owns 9,335 shares of the utilities provider’s stock valued at $410,000 after purchasing an additional 400 shares during the period. Finally, United Capital Management of KS Inc. boosted its stake in shares of Southern by 5.4% in the fourth quarter. United Capital Management of KS Inc. now owns 8,208 shares of the utilities provider’s stock valued at $361,000 after purchasing an additional 424 shares during the period. Institutional investors own 56.52% of the company’s stock.

About Southern

The Southern Company, through its subsidiaries, engages in the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. The company also constructs, acquires, owns, and manages power generation assets, including renewable energy facilities and sells electricity in the wholesale market; and distributes natural gas in Illinois, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey, Florida, Tennessee, and Maryland, as well as provides gas marketing services, wholesale gas services, and gas midstream operations.

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