By Business First of Columbus

American Electric Power Company Inc. turned in another quarter of improved sales but posted a fourth-quarter and full-year earnings decline as an employee buyout program and other one-time costs chipped away at profit throughout the year.

The Columbus-based utility told investors Friday it earned $176 million, or 37 cents a share, in the last three months of the year. Thatâ¿¿s down 26 percent from $238 million, or 50 cents a share, last year.

Earnings took a $3 million hit as American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP) tweaked cost estimates for a 2010 voluntary severance package offer that led to the elimination of 2,461 jobs. CEO Michael Morris also said the company set aside nearly $43 million after regulators determined an Ohio subsidiaryâ¿¿s profit was excessive in 2009. Part of that chunk will be refunded to customers this year.

For the year, AEPâ¿¿s earnings fell 11 percent to $1.21 billion, or $2.53 a share, from $1.36 billion, or $2.96 a share, in 2009. Nearly $300 million of that profit drop is tied to severance costs in the buyout. Revenue, meanwhile, grew 7 percent to $14.4 billion from $13.5 billion on increased industrial sales and favorable weather conditions.

AEPâ¿¿s earnings report comes a day after the company filed a rate increase request through 2014. Among other proposals, AEP is asking that its generation charge increase by an average of 1.5 percent next year, 2.7 percent in 2013 and stay flat for the first five months of 2014. That would boost the average monthly bill of a residential customer in Central Ohio by $1.83 next year.

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