Duke ( DUK) stopped getting the royal treatment. The company -- worshipped by retail investors who embrace its lofty dividend -- stirred up some detractors on Thursday with news of a major earnings miss. The company posted a first-quarter operating profit of 32 cents a share that fell a nickel shy of the consensus estimate and a full dime below last year's results. Duke Energy North America, the company's faltering merchant energy division, shouldered the entire blame. The unit suffered an unexpected $93 million "mark-to-market" loss, erasing 6 cents from quarterly profits, that turnaround CEO Paul Anderson deemed unacceptable. "The majority of our businesses posted solid earnings," Anderson told analysts during a conference call on Thursday. "But we continue to be dogged by issues at DENA." In total, DENA posted a loss before interest and taxes of $521 million in the quarter. The bulk of the losses stemmed from a new $325 million charge taken on power plants that Duke is trying to sell. For analysts, the charge signaled two things. First, Duke may quickly be nearing a sale of its distressed power plants in the southeastern U.S. And second, the company may wind up getting even less than it thought for the plants and, therefore, face additional charges going forward. Even excluding the special charge, DENA reported a $106 million loss that could threaten its plan to keep full-year losses to $300 million. The latest loss came after DENA got "whipped around by a negative mark-to-market position" on some mothballed power plants, Anderson explained. The company will continue to face mark-to-market exposure "as long as we have a mark-to-market book out there," he added.