National Fuel Gas' CEO Discusses F4Q 2011 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

National Fuel Gas Co. ( NFG)

F4Q 2011 Earnings Call

November 4, 2011 11:00 am ET

Executives

Timothy J. Silverstein – Investor Relations

David F. Smith – Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Ronald J. Tanski – President and Chief Operating Officer

Matthew D. Cabell – Senior Vice President

David P. Bauer – Treasurer and Principal Financial Officer

Analysts

Andrea Sharkey – Gabelli & Company

Kevin Smith – Raymond James

Craig Shere – Tuohy Brothers

Mark Barnett – Morningstar

John Abbott – Pritchard Capital Partners, LLC

Timm Schneider – Citigroup

Carl Kirst – BMO Capital Markets

Becca Followill – U.S. Capital Advisors

Josh Silverstein – Enerecap Partners

Presentation

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Fourth Quarter 2011 National Fuel Gas Company earnings conference call. My name is Larry and I’ll be your operator for today. At this time, all participants are in listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions)

I would now like to turn the conference over to your host for today Mr. Tim Silverstein, Director of Investor Relations. Please proceed.

Timothy J. Silverstein

Thank you, Larry, and good morning everyone. Thank you for joining us on today's conference call for a discussion of last evening’s earnings release. With us on the call from National Fuel Gas Company are Dave Smith, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; Ron Tanski, President and Chief Operating Officer, and Dave Bauer, Treasurer and Principal Financial Officer. Joining us from Seneca Resources Corporation is Matt Cabell, President. At the end of the prepared remarks, we'll open the discussion to questions.

We’d like to remind you that today’s teleconference will contain forward-looking statements. While National Fuel’s expectations, beliefs and projections are made in good faith and are believed to have a reasonable basis, actual results may differ materially. These statements speak only as of the date on which they are made, and you may refer to last evening’s earnings release for a listing of certain specific risk factors.

With that, we'll begin with Dave Smith.

David F. Smith

Thank you, Tim, and good morning to everyone. The fourth quarter kept an outstanding year for National Fuel. Recurring earnings for the quarter were up $0.06 per share or 15% over the prior year’s fourth quarter. Seneca had another strong quarter, posting a 3.8 Bcfe or 29% quarter-over-quarter increase in production, which in turns over $0.04 per share increase in E&P results.

Earnings in the regulated segments were up $0.02 per share for the quarter, thanks in large part to a great job by our employees in controlling costs and driving operational efficiencies across our regulated business units.

In the field, we had a good quarter, as we continue to execute on our plans for growth in Appalachia and Western Pennsylvania. Seneca continues to build momentum particularly in the Marcellus. During the quarter, Seneca had five rigs operating, which combined to spud another 23 horizontal wells, while EOG initiated an additional 13 horizontal wells.

Our daily production rate from the Marcellus at the end of fiscal 2011 was nearly triple from last year’s rate. In addition, even after the sale of our offshore Gulf of Mexico properties, Seneca’s proved reserves at September 30 increased by 34% to 935 Bcfe. Simply put, overall, we are very pleased with the results we’ve achieved in the Marcellus.

Turing to the regulated businesses, the pipeline and storage segment saw a reduction of its transportation revenues due primarily to the persistently strong pricing basis at Niagara, which make selling input capacity from Canada difficult. As you know, this was not a surprise, it was consistent with our expectations and consistent with our forecast. Fortunately, but also consistent with our expectations, net revenue erosion stabilized and moving forward, pipeline and storage revenues will increase significantly.

Last month, Supply Corporation placed its line in expansion project and service and I expect that Empire’s Tioga County Extension Project, which takes advantage of the relatively strong market north of the border, will be in service this quarter. Combined, those two projects will add $23.7 million in revenues in fiscal 2012. After the contracts underlying those projects have been ramped up to their full volumes, which will take about 18 months or so, annual pipeline and storage revenues will be impacted by about $36 million.

Our utility turned in a very strong performance despite the continued weak economy. Thanks to a number of revenue protecting mechanisms, things like revenue decoupling, weather normalization, 90-10 symmetrical sharing. Our utility earnings are much less sensitive to macro economic cycles. This stability not only benefits our retail customers, but our shareholders as well. Like our pipeline and storage earnings, utility earnings are not particularly sensitive to commodity price volatility, which services as a nice hedge to E&P earnings.

As we’ve said in the past, the stable predictable earnings of the regulated companies serve as the foundation for our longstanding dividend to which we remain committed.

Looking ahead, we’re expecting an even better year in fiscal 2012. In E&P segment, we’re adding six Seneca operated rig in early 2012 and plan to drill on the order of 50% more net wells in 2012 than we did in 2011. As a result, we anticipate production growth of nearly 40% and look to maintain a similar growth rate in the following years.

A top priority, really the top priority in the E&P segment will be the further delineation of our Western acreage. We made good progress on this front in 2011, delineating our extensive Owl’s Nest area. As a result, beginning in January 2012, we plan to operate one or two rigs in this 90,000-acre block, which is largely owned in fee and thus royalty free.

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