Southern Company Stock Analysis (SO)

NYSE:SO   Southern Company (The)
Basic Facts:
Southern Company is itself a holding organization who owns all of the Common Stock for Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Mississippi Power, and Southern Gas; all of which are publically operating utilities. Southern’s other holdings include Natural Gas Distribution, Marketing, Wholesale services, and pipeline investments.

Growth Factors:
The total customers served under Southern’s (SO) area are about 4.5 million. This looks to be one of the largest areas of growth for the next decade. The recent pandemic has forced many people to re-evaluate what they want out of life. Contemplation has resulted in a mass exodus from northern states to southern states (see census data) as many freedom sensitive and financially cognizant individuals seek more accommodative socio-economic environments. I see this trend to continue as COVID transforms from a persistent threat to a source of past-trauma and driver of personal reflection. The trend of “realization” will, in all likelihood, continue and grow to a nexus in the next couple years. This may well increase Southern’s customer base by an order of magnitude over the next decade. The number of customers will grow until economic pressures force northern and liberal states to seek conformity with their more free counterparts. I think these pressures will need to persist for ten years before changes in these sates become apparent enough to soften demand for family and individual relocation.

Demand for Green Energy isn’t subsiding. Common notions of “green” energy typically involve: Solar, wind, and natural gas . Southern has a large presence in the Natural Gas industry along with very accommodative infrastructure and buy-back policies for solar generation. Political environment and other entities with SO’s area (Transmission entities, EMC’s, and Power Co-ops) are also accommodative to Solar Generation through buy-backs and Green Energy purchasing programs. These will bode well against the persistent narrative in favor of green energy.

SO’s interest in the Vogtle Units 3 and 4 also paints a very good picture for the future of net-zero carbon emitting generation. Commonly repeated negativity surrounding the numerous cost over-runs and delays surrounding construction of the Units are, in my opinion, vastly over-stated. The new Vogtle Units are state-of-the-art (new cooling technology and new style Westinghouse alternator). Most of what’s being done at Vogtle has never been done before in scope , scale, or timeline. The bankruptcy of Westinghouse (the manufacturer of the alternator used for Units 3 & 4) also stretched expected completion date. Considering these pressures, miscalculations in costs and timelines are to be expected. However, I believe most investors have priced in delays within the present stock’s price (~$61.00 per share).

I treat the inclusion of expanding Nuclear generation in my bullish assessment of Southern’s stock because, as the amount of traditional green energy (Solar and Wind) increases as a percentage of effective generation, it will become painfully clear the system becomes more fragile in exponential proportion to the amount of “green” generation expressed. Protecting the system against itself when this proportion of expressed green generation is large remains an evolving science. Many substations are adding high-voltage reactors to provide inertial frames for fault detecting relays but this will likely not be enough to appropriately protect the electric system. This will make classic rotating machines (steam turbines) necessary to provide base-generation and system stability (this is not opinion, but fact).

Nuclear power is also cheaper to generate though maintenance costs can be substantive (there are few things more complex than steam turbines). This will create an economic pressure for Southern to generate more power through their nuclear units as other utilities looking to buy power off the wholesale markets demand the cheaper energy (this is my opinion).

Monetary Environment:
In the age of Central Bank debt jubilation it’s always appropriate to consider the actions of the Federal Reserve into one’s evaluation of American equities. This is no different for my evaluation of Southern Company. The Fed has provided markets with liquidity ad nauseam. This was true even before the repo crisis of summer 2019 and the liquidity crisis of March 2020. Looking at the chart, one can see the precipitous rise of SO’s stock price throughout 2019 as the Effective Federal Funds Rate (in purple) decreased rapidly in the aftermath of the “taper tantrum” in 2018.

As the Fed has driven down the effective interest rate and costs of capital, investors can expect more capital appreciation for each dollar invested into financial markets. This has resulted in speculative waves in tech and other growth sectors which themselves have bred things like “meme stocks” and ESG investors. Narrative and “hopium” have become more significant than cash flow and asset valuations. This fact makes my present valuation of most equities included within the S&P remarkably over-bought and “bubbly” (death-gaze on TSLA ). Over time, debt can never remain solvent at the present levels. The Fed will have to taper eventually and, once it does, capital will fly at super-sonic speeds away from growth investments (Amazon, Apple , Tesla , NVidia , and the tech industry as a whole) to value investments, like SO. This will not necessarily result in a rise in the stock’s price but those who are already positioned in value stocks once the Fed tapers will sleep easily.

Stock Price:
I expect the utility sector to languish through the summer as monetary conditions will remain accommodating throughout the rest of 2021. I don’t expect a rise of the stock price above $67.00 throughout the summer with no breakout above $70.00 for 2021.

The short-term trend of SO is bearish with the equity in a noticeable downtrend. However, SO is approaching the lower bound of a regression trend with a buy price of $60.50. A longer-term regression trend shows a bullish trend with the present price approaching the lower bound of that trend as well.

SO will need to hold $60.00 as a resistance. If this resistance fails the next price target would be $57.35.

My longerm (3-10 years) valuations is: BULLISH