Every well-balanced portfolio needs a solid base of steady performers to give it a bit of ballast. These stocks may not always grab the attention, but they should help keep you afloat in stormy seas. Here are a couple of steady income payers to balance your racier holdings.

National treasure

Multinational electricity and gas utility National Grid (LSE: NG) combines the play-safe defensive attributes you would expect with an invigorating splash of offensive dash. Its share price is up almost 77% over the past five years, more than double the FTSE 100 return of around 30%. It has easily outpaced utility alternatives such as Centrica, which fell more than 20% over the same period.

I’m glad to see National Grid confirm my longstanding positive impression. It’s a highly regulated venture but this gives it plenty of stability in the shape of healthy forward visible earnings. It can also produce the occasional pleasant surprise, such as the recent decision by the US state of Massachusetts to grant price hikes for its 1.3m electricity distribution customers, which will deliver a $101m revenue boost.

The one sticking point is that it isn’t particularly cheap, trading at 17.3 times earnings, although few will complain given its solid prospects. Strong share price growth has suppressed the yield, which is currently 3.99%, hardly spectacular but again, nothing to grumble about in these low interest rate days. The future looks steady, with forecast earnings per share (EPS) growth of 1% in the year to March 2017, and 3% the year after. Revenues and profits look set to rise slowly and steadily as well. By 2018, the yield should have crept up to 4.2%. National Grid looks like solidity personified, and that’s a rare and attractive attribute these days.

Golden Oldie

FTSE 100-listed South African insurance group Old Mutual  (LSE: OML) is often neglected by investors who are distracted by more visible UK rivals such as Aviva, but that has been a costly mistake. The stock is up 111% over the past five years and has performed pretty well in recent months as well.

This is particularly impressive given that it’s going through a major overhaul, which will see the business try to liberate value by splitting itself into four parts: Old Mutual Wealth, South African lender Nedbank, the South African Old Mutual Emerging Markets business and its US institutional asset management arm Old Mutual Asset Management. It has now exited all its continental European operations, ahead of a planned London flotation later this year. Reports suggest it may retreat from listing its UK wealth management arm, due to the mounting costs of upgrading its investment platform, and could opt for a sale instead.

2016 could be a bumpy year, with EPS forecast to fall 8%, but a forecast 15% rebound in 2017 could quickly ease worries. Today’s valuation of 10.7 times earnings certainly isn’t excessive, although the forecast yield of 3.3% disappoints compared to some of the income streams you can get today.

Old Mutual has exciting growth prospects in Africa but conversely, that could make it too risky for some investors, especially given recent Rand volatility. But it certainly merits your attention.

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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.