CenterPoint Energy's CEO Discusses Q1 2012 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

CenterPoint Energy (CNP)

Q1 2012 Earnings Call

May 03, 2012 11:30 am ET

Executives

Marianne Paulsen -

David M. McClanahan - Chief Executive Officer, President and Director

Scott E. Rozzell - Executive Vice President, Corporate Secretary and General Counsel

Tracy B. Bridge - Senior Vice President and Division President of Gas Distribution Operations

C. Gregory Harper - Senior Vice President and Group President of Energy Pipelines & Field Services

Joseph B. McGoldrick - President of Natural Gas Operations

Gary L. Whitlock - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Unknown Executive -

Analysts

Carl L. Kirst - BMO Capital Markets U.S.

Ali Agha - SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division

David Frank

Andrew Weisel - Macquarie Research

Yves Siegel - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

Steven I. Fleishman - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

Presentation

Operator

Good morning, and welcome to the CenterPoint Energy's First Quarter 2012 Earnings Conference Call with Senior Management. [Operator Instructions] I will now turn the call over to Marianne Paulsen, Director of Investor Relations. Ms. Paulsen?

Marianne Paulsen

Thank you very much, Beverly. Good morning, everyone. This is Marianne Paulsen, Director of Investor Relations for CenterPoint Energy. I'd like to welcome you to our first quarter 2012 earnings conference call. Thank you for joining us today. David McClanahan, President and CEO; and Gary Whitlock, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, will provide highlights on key activities, and our business unit leaders will discuss the first quarter 2012 results for their respective segments. In addition to these senior executives, we have other members of management with us who may assist in answering questions following the prepared remarks.

Our earnings press release and Form 10-Q filed earlier today are posted on our website, which is www.centerpointenergy.com, under the Investors section. I remind you that any projections or forward-looking statements made during this call are subject to the cautionary statements on forward-looking information in the company's filings with the SEC.

Before David begins, I would like to mention that a replay of this call will be available until 6:00 p.m. Central Time on Thursday, May 10, 2012. To access the replay, please call 1 (855) 859-2056 or (404) 537-3406, and enter the conference ID number 65391356.

You can also listen to an online replay of the call through the website that I just mentioned. We will archive the call on CenterPoint Energy's website for at least 1 year. And with that, I will now turn the call over to David.

David M. McClanahan

Thank you, Marianne. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us today and thank you for your interest in CenterPoint Energy. This morning, I will discuss our consolidated results for the first quarter of 2012. As a change to what we have done in prior quarters, I have asked our business unit leadership, Scott Rozzell, Tracy Bridge, Greg Harper and Joe McGoldrick to provide comments on their respective units performance in the quarter and give their perspectives on trends and expectations for their businesses. And finally, Gary will provide an update on a few items including guidance.

We had a solid first quarter given the extremely mild winter weather and low natural gas prices. This morning, we reported net income of $147 million, or $0.34 per diluted share, compared to $148 million or $0.35 per diluted share for the same period of 2011. Operating income for the first quarter of 2012 was $338 million compared to $364 million for the same period last year. Our gas distribution unit, and to a lesser extent, our Competitive Gas Sales and Services business, were impacted by the mild winter weather. Houston Electric had a very solid quarter, and our midstream businesses met expectations. The diversity of our portfolio certainly helped maintain our earnings this quarter. I'll now ask each of our business unit heads to give more detail around their earnings and prospects. We'll start with Scott, the President of our Electric Operations.

Scott E. Rozzell

Thank you, David, and good morning to everyone. Houston Electric's first quarter performance was excellent. This year's operating income exceeded the first quarter of last year despite mild weather and the impact of rates implemented last September, which reduced operating income by $11 million. Revenues were bolstered by continued customer growth, a modest increase in usage, return associated with the recovery of true-up proceeds, and increased ancillary revenues, primarily from right away leases. Altogether, the quarter was $2 million favorable to last year.

We serve one of the most vibrant areas in the nation and the prospects for Houston Electric are exciting. We continue to enjoy a growing service territory with more than 42,000 customers added since the first quarter of last year. More than 93,000 jobs were added during the 12 months ending in February of 2012. And this rate of growth is projected to continue throughout the rest of the year. The Houston unemployment rate is currently 7.2%, down from a peak of 8.8%. Houston is the fourth largest city and the fifth most populous metropolitan area in the country. And the population growth rate of 2% is expected to continue for the next several years.

Another key driver of growth is low natural gas prices, which support expansion in our refining, base chemicals and downstream products industries. These new facilities will require transmission and substation investments to serve a growing power requirement. Additionally, in response to the Panama Canal widening, facilities at or near the port of Houston are being expanded to accommodate an increase in cargo movement. This will bring general, commercial and industrial growth, as well as direct low growth associated with the installation of new, larger electric short range.

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