Shares of

Southern Co.

(SO) - Get Report

were heading south this morning after the company said its fourth-quarter earnings came in short of Wall Street's expectations.

Southern's shares were lately trading down 81 cents or 2.9%, at $26.81, having closed at $27.63 Thursday on the

New York Stock Exchange

.

The Atlanta-based utility holding company posted earnings of $148 million, or 21 cents a share, compared with $143 million, or 22 cents a share for the same period one year before. A consensus estimate by analysts had predicted earnings would come in at 25 cents a share, according to

First Call/Thomson Financial

.

Southern also announced this morning that its directors will consider the spin-off of

Southern Energy

(SOE)

, a subsidiary company, on April 2. The company also said Southern Energy will be renamed

Mirant Corporation

, and will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Jan. 22 under the symbol

MIR

.