Northwest Natural Gas Company, dba NW Natural (NYSE:NWN) at its annual meeting of shareholders today reported that the company delivered record results in 2009 and is on target for 2010. A major highlight of 2009 was lower commodity costs and the associated drop in rates for customers. NW Natural returned about $36 million in gas-cost savings to customers last summer, and then lowered residential rates again in November by about 16 percent in Oregon and 22 percent in Washington. Last year’s drop in gas prices also benefited shareholders. Earnings per share in 2009 were a record $2.83 based on net income of $75.1 million, an 8 percent increase over 2008 results for both earnings per share and net income, primarily due to the benefit of lower gas costs and the associated sharing mechanism in Oregon. The company has performed well during the economic recession by continuing to standardize business processes, implement new technology systems and reduce staffing levels through attrition and a voluntary severance package. “Last year, we made the difficult decision to resize our work force to adjust for the economic downturn. Today, we are a leaner organization, with new technologies that promise to continue to improve our productivity,” NW Natural President and Chief Executive Officer Gregg Kantor told shareholders at the 2010 annual meeting. Kantor also mentioned the company’s continued emphasis on customer service and community involvement as a cornerstone of its success. Last year, NW Natural ranked in the top two in the West in the J.D. Power and Associates Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study for the sixth consecutive year. In addition, the company also received top honors in the 2010 J.D. Power and Associates Gas Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study, ranking first in the West. And rounding out recent achievements, Kantor announced NW Natural had been named as a 2010 recipient of the Oregon Ethics in Business Award sponsored by the Rotary Club of Portland, Portland Business Journal and Willamette University MBA program.
“We have an outstanding, committed work force and a superior product. In our view, we have faced the recessionary challenges head on and we are ready to move forward and make the most of a strong competitive position.”Kantor added, “We are also taking important steps to grow our nonutility storage business.” NW Natural is in a joint project called Gill Ranch Storage, LLC with Pacific Gas and Electric Company that includes an initial 20 Bcf of underground capacity and a 27-mile pipeline. Last October, Gill Ranch Storage received its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the California Public Utilities Commission. Kantor also mentioned a continued focus in 2010 on permitting efforts for the proposed Palomar pipeline project in Oregon. As a final highlight, the company noted it has increased dividends paid on common stock for 54 consecutive years, one of the few companies in the country to have achieved this accomplishment. The company's current annual indicated dividend rate is $1.66 per share. During the meeting, shareholders re-elected directors Tod R. Hamachek, Jane L. Peverett, Kenneth Thrasher, and Russell F. Tromley, and ratified the appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as the company's independent registered public accountants for the fiscal year 2010. Forward-Looking Statements This document may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements can be identified by words such as “anticipates,” “intends,” “plans,” “seeks,” “believes,” “estimates,” “expects” and similar references to future periods. Because forward-looking statements relate to the future, they are subject to inherent uncertainties, risks and changes in circumstances that are difficult to predict. Our actual results may differ materially from those contemplated by the forward-looking statements. We caution you therefore against relying on any of these forward-looking statements. They are neither statements of historical fact nor guarantees or assurances of future performance. Important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements are discussed by reference to the factors described in Part I, Item 1A, “Risk Factors,” and Part II, Item 7 and Item 7A, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and “Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosure about Market Risk” in the company’s most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K and in Part I, Items 2 and 3, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and “Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk,” and Part II, Item 1A, “Risk Factors,” in the company’s quarterly reports filed thereafter. Any forward-looking statement speaks only as of the date on which such statement is made, and we undertake no obligation to publicly update any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future developments or otherwise, except as may be required by law.
About NW NaturalNW Natural is headquartered in Portland, Ore., and serves about 670,000 residential and business customers in Oregon and Southwest Washington. It is the largest independent natural gas utility in the Pacific Northwest. The company has more than $2.4 billion in total assets, which includes about 16 Bcf of underground gas storage capacity within its service territory at Mist, Ore. NW Natural has increased its dividends paid on common stock for 54 consecutive years. The company is presently building a 20 Bcf underground gas storage facility near Fresno, Calif., and is working on a pipeline development project in Oregon.