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Westar Energy's CEO Discusses Q4 2011 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

Commenting this morning will be Tony Somma, CFO; and Mark Ruelle, CEO. Other members of our senior management team are also available to answer questions.

Tony will offer highlights on the quarter, comment on earnings guidance and the updated CapEx forecast for 2012 through 2014, including an update on major projects. Mark will comment on regulatory activities, EPA regulations, offer a few thoughts on the Kansas economy and share some specifics on our dividend increase.

With that, I will turn the call to Tony.

Tony Somma

Thanks Bruce. Good morning. Earnings and earnings per share for the quarter were $19 million and $0.16 respectively compared with $5 million and $0.04 in 2010. EPS for the quarter reflect additional shares issued to fund investment in our utility infrastructure. For the quarter, gross margin increased $6m or 2%, due mostly to higher price as measured by heating degree days.

Weather in the fourth quarter was a bit milder than the fourth quarter of 2010. We estimate weather costs us about $0.01 a share. On the expense side, O&M for the quarter was about $9 million or 8% lower, excluding a $4 million increase in SPP transmission cost, most of which has a revenue offset.

Principal reasons for the lower O&M were a $11 million for reduced maintenance expense and a $2 million reduction in storm amortization. Those decreases were partially offset by a $3 million increase in property taxes, which like transmission has a revenue offset.

SG&A expenses also decreased by about $11 million, due primarily to lower compensation expense. In combination, O&M and SG&A excluding SPP transmission costs and legal settlements, were 11% lower for the quarter and 2% higher for the full year 2011. Depreciation expense increased $2 million, in line with guidance, largely reflecting plant additions.

During the quarter, we settled a forward equity sale from 12 months earlier by issuing an additional 8.5 million shares and receiving proceeds of almost $200 million. This raised our equity ratio to 52.6%, the level used in the settlement agreement in our rate filing. With respect to credit ratings, in January, Moody’s upgraded all of our ratings by one notch. Our secured debt is now A3 and we have a P2 commercial paper rating.

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