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The Housing Recovery Bodes Well for Utilities

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As the nascent recovery in the housing market gains momentum, it will boost demand for utilities, which will flow through to their rate base -- and eventually their stocks

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But we are starting to see some unmistakably favorable spillover in certain industries. For example, the lumber mills in Canada that feed North American home building ran at 86% of production capacity in the first five months of 2012, up from 82% for all of 2011 according to the Western Wood Products Association. Lumber futures were very strong this summer, a sharp reversal from the mill closures during the housing bust.

Utility customer growth went into reverse in some areas during the housing bust. And few regions had a harder fall than Nevada, where rapid development literally stopped in its tracks, and vacancies skyrocketed. That sent NV Energy's (NYSE:NVE) customer growth rate into the red, from the 5% to 6% annualized rate that had lasted for decades.

The situation is still far from healthy, and it may be years before the market fully recovers. But NV, which serves 95% of the state's total load, is once again reporting positive customer growth, and expects an annualized growth rate of a bit over 1% for 2012 and increases thereafter.

Over the long term, customer growth is what feeds rate base growth for utilities. Its resumption in battered Nevada portends well for NV Energy's future earnings and dividend growth. And we're seeing the same thing play out across much of the rest of the country as well. Even in Michigan, power and gas utility CMS Energy (NYSE:CMS) reports industrial sales are growing 7.5% this year from 2011, when they reached pre-crash levels. That means jobs and better housing for consumers, and growing profits for the utility.
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