Expenses Widen Piedmont's Fourth-Quarter Loss

Operations and maintenance costs hinder EPS, while operating revenue improves.
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Hurt by higher operations and maintenance expenses,

Piedmont Natural Gas

(PNY)

reported on Dec. 29, 2008, that its fourth-quarter fiscal 2008 net loss widened to $13.21 million or $0.18 per share from $8.31 million or $0.11 per share the prior year. The consensus estimate for the quarter was a loss of $0.13 per share.

During the fourth quarter, Piedmont's total operating revenue improved 12.1% to $311.75 million from $278.03 million, attributable to higher secondary market transactions owing to increased activity and gas costs and pass-through of increased commodity gas costs to its customers.

Additionally, the company generated its revenue from the regulated utility segment. Volume of gas sales and deliveries surged 47.9% to 15.51 million dekatherms, while transportation volumes dropped 11.8% to 28.80 million dekatherms. Subsequently, total throughput inched up 2.7% to 44.30 million dekatherms. Secondary market volumes slumped 47.8% to 8.06 million dekatherms, while total number of customers billed descended by 7.57 million compared to 1.14 million in fourth-quarter 2007.

Recently, Piedmont declared a quarterly dividend of $0.26 per share, payable on January 15, 2009. Meanwhile, the company seeks regulatory approval to cut residential billing rates by 7% in North Carolina and 7% to 8% in South Carolina, owing to declining natural gas wholesale prices.

For 2008, revenue from operating activities ascended 22.1% to $2.09 billion from $1.71 billion in 2007. Additionally, Piedmont's net income grew 5.4% to $110.01 million or $1.49 per share from $104.39 million or $1.40 per share aided by an increase in the number of customers, colder weather and cost-cutting initiatives.

Looking ahead to 2009, Piedmont reaffirmed its EPS to range between $1.55 and $1.65. Furthermore, it expects utility capital expenditure to be $246.20 million, including $60.00 million for its Robeson LNG storage project and $30.60 million towards pipeline infrastructure for its two new gas-fired power generation projects in North Carolina.

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