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Progress Energy, Inc. (NYSE:PGN)

3Q09 (Qtr End 9/30/09) Earnings Call Transcript

October 30, 2009 10:00 ET

Executives

Robert F. (Bob) Drennan, Jr. - Vice President, Investor Relations, Progress Energy Service Company

William (Bill) D. Johnson - Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Mark F. Mulhern - Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

Ashar Khan – Incremental Capital

Steven Fleishman - Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch

Mark Sigal - Canaccord Adams, Inc.

Michael Worms - BMO Capital Markets

Edward Heyn - Catapult Capital

Jonathan Reeder - Wells Fargo Securities

Operator

Good morning and welcome to Progress Energy’s 2009 Third Quarter Earnings Conference Call. This call is being recorded, and all of your phone lines will be in a listen only mode until we begin the question and answer session.

For opening remarks and introductions, I now turn the call over to Bob Drennan of Progress Energy. Please go ahead, sir.

Robert F. (Bob) Drennan, Jr.

Thank you, Jessica and good morning and welcome to everyone. Joining me this morning are Bill Johnson, our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; Mark Mulhern, Chief Financial Officer; and other members of our management team. As a reminder, this call will be archived on our website for the next two weeks. We are currently being webcast from our Investor Relations page at progress-energy.com. We are also offering an audio replay of this call in the Windows Media format, also available from our website.

I would like to direct your attention to our website, where we have included a set of slides which accompany our speaker’s prepared remarks this morning. Those slides can be found at progress-energy.com/webcasts.

Today, we will be making forward-looking statements during the call as well as reviewing historical information. There are numerous factors that may cause future actual results to differ materially from these statements, and we outlined these on our earnings release and Form 10-K, 10-Q, and other SEC filings as well as a risk factor discussion which is also found in our forms 10-K and 10-Q.

This morning, following opening comments from Bill and Mark, we will then open the phone lines to address your questions. Now I will turn the call over to Bill Johnson.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Thanks, Bob. Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us on our third quarter call.

We appreciate your interest in Progress Energy. I’ll keep my comments brief today, because we’ll see many of you at the EEI Financial Conference early next week, and we have to have some things to talk about there. And also, we know there are a lot of earnings calls stacked up today, so we’ll get right to business here.

Slide 4 shows the topics that I’ll cover in my remarks. The financial highlights for the quarter, an update on Florida regulatory matters, and approval of our coal and gas repowering project in the Carolinas, the Wayne County plant. Then I’ll turn the call over to Mark Mulhern, our CFO, who will provide more details on our financial results.

We continue to face a challenging environment, of course. But our management team and workforce continue to be sharply focused on serving customers, controlling cost and managing the business. I’m proud of how they’re rising to the challenge of these tough economic times. This focus and their hard work have helped to offset lower energy sales in our utilities.

On Slide 5, you can see the highlights of our third quarter ongoing earnings. $1.22 a share compared to $1.17 in the third quarter a year ago. Our year to date ongoing earnings are $2.53 a share compared to $2.50 this time last year. So I’m pleased to report we are still on track to meet the 2009 ongoing earnings targets we announced early this year. We are reaffirming our 2009 ongoing earnings guidance range of $2.95 to $3.15 per share.

Again, these numbers reflect a strong focus on continuous business excellence, cost management and operational efficiency. And in a moment, Mark will go over the key earnings drivers.

I do want to point out as our news release this morning showed that our GAAP earnings are only $0.88 for the quarter and $2.16 year to date. GAAP earnings are down primarily because of a $0.36 charge resulting from a litigation verdict related to discontinued operations.

This is a legacy issue associated with the synthetic fuels facilities required by Florida Progress before the merger of nearly a decade ago. So we’re obviously disappointed in this verdict and the award. We don’t believe the result is (indiscernible) so we intend to file post-trial motions and are evaluating our grounds for an appeal.

Now if you will turn to Slide 6, you’ll find a summary of some key facts relating to our Florida base rate case. Our current four year settlement agreement expires at the end of December this year. Over this four year period, we have invested roughly $5 billion to serve our customers in Florida. Based on a 2010 test year, our rate base in Florida has grown by about $2 billion since 2005. The technical hearings on the rate case were completed on October 1, which is actually a little bit ahead of schedule. And we had expected a commission vote on November 19. But as you’re probably aware, the Florida commission earlier this week decided to delay the vote on our current case until January of 2010. Under the commission’s current schedule, it would decide our revenue requirements on January 11 and approve rate design on January 28.

Now we’re obviously disappointed in the commission’s decision to delay our case by nearly two months. We had a very straightforward rate case based on the investments we’ve made and the costs incurred to serve Florida customers over the last several years, there were no surprises at all in our case. But the schedule is in the Commission’s control and we will work towards the January dates and know that in next several weeks we will weigh our options on whether the proposed rates will go into effect on January 1 as the Florida statutes indicate.

On a more positive note the Florida Commission earlier this month did approve our alternative cost recovery proposal for the 2010 nuclear cause. Mark will discuss this in a few moments.

Now one final topic before I turn it over to him. Slide seven shows some facts related to the first stage of our repowering strategy in North Carolina. The replacement of older coal fired plants with new combined cycle gas. The North Carolina Utilities Commission approved the Wayne County project on October 1. This project involves our retiring Lee plant to relatively small coal plant build in the 1950s early 1960s and building a 950 megawatt combined cycle gas plant. It’s better than adding scrubbers to those older cold units.

This Wayne project facilitates compliance with the North Carolina 2013 Clean Smokestacks requirements and also lowers our carbon footprint. This is a $900 million project with construction beginning in 2011 and completion expected in early 2013. One condition of the Commission’s approval was that we file a plan to retire an additional 550 megawatts of coal fired capacity, and we are in the process of developing our overall repowering plants at the moment.

Also I want to mention this week’s news about the Smart Grid grant. The U.S. Department of Energy has approved our $200 million grant application for Smart Grid. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was here in Raleigh for a press conference on Wednesday to talk about this grant and the benefits of the Smart Grid. So we are already investing in several Smart Grid initiatives and these funds will help in our program to monetize the electric grid. This is one part of our balanced solution approach to preparing for a new energy future.

With that I will turn it over to Mark Mulhern.

Mark F. Mulhern

Thank you, Bill. I appreciate you doing our call today. I will cover the topics on slide nine and mainly focused on the numbers. And I am looking forward to seeing (ph) many of you at EEI.

As you know the third quarter is important for us because it accounts for approximately 40% of our annual earnings and covers the peak usage period in the Carolinas. So as Bill said our employees have done this with a great focus and attention to cost control to help us overcome weaker kilowatt-hour sales and still produce positive earnings.

So on slide 10 we have shown the components of the earnings by entities. So year to date that solid $2.53 of ongoing earnings is broken down at the $56 (indiscernible) and $37 of private (indiscernible) , offset by $0.40 of cooperate cost which is primarily interest expense.

Turning to slide 11, summarize the key variances for the quarter, we can see the $0.27 of favorable item (indiscernible) due primarily to rate relief, our capital investments in Florida and solid cost management. This (indiscernible) well offset by (indiscernible) and negative growth in uses at both utilities.

Slide 12 show some of the same key variances but on the year-to-date basis, so the additional (indiscernible) to the one mentioned above include $0.08 on (indiscernible) $0.11 of weather. At the weather comparison is the 2008 which was $0.06 bellow normal. So 2009 year-to-date weather we experience $0.05 for positive weather compare to normal. Today’s (ph) last slide includes growth in uses, share (indiscernible) and higher interest expense due to the CapEx program.

Shifting to slide 13, we show the component of the $51 million increase in ongoing earnings. We may find the (indiscernible) additional explain of variance in the income segment. It highlights the strong (indiscernible) cost control and impact of nuclear cost recovery on the depression and amortization line. (ph) Nuclearlization did not really impact earnings those since they offsetting revenue which I would address in just a moment.

So now I shifted to slide 14 to give you some granularly on the industrial trends in the (indiscernible) . This chart requires a little study but shows you seasonality of our industrial sales. And key take away that we had a uptake from the second quarter and the industrial sales appear to have stabilized. (indiscernible) at reduce levels. Industrial year-to-date (indiscernible) sales or PEC are down at 11% now versus being down 15.5% after the second quarter. Just a couple comments on segments the chemical and fluid segments continue to out perform while the textile and primary fabricated metals continue to under perform.

On slide 15, reflect the customer growth slide and low uses customers in both utilities. While there is not a discernible upward trend here, we have seen flat. So we expect to have approximately 10,000 new customers at PEC for the full year 2009 and a slight decline at PEF. Unemployment rates continue to be in double-digits at al three states and as we have previously said our recovery will depend on the recovery of the broader economy.

On slide 16 and 17, I wanted to highlight some of the outcomes of the recent Commission decision on nuclear cost recovery. The Florida Public Service Commission clarified two important items in this decision. The deferral of nuclear cost will earn AFUDC returns at 8.848% and nuclear cost will be recovered based on the Commission’s approved projections.

So, prior to this clarification PEF had been assigning capacity revenues to nuclear cost recovery based on actual cost incurred. Any over under-recoveries of actual cost were deferred and earned a commercial paper rate. As a result of this clarification PEF recommended additional amortization of nuclear cost and unrecovered cost resulted in higher returns than preciously recognized. The impact of this clarification on third quarter earnings was approximately two cents.

So in addition our proposal to collect 207 million in rates in 2010 was approved. So our previously deferred cost is amortized over five years and earns that AFUDC rate of 8.848%.

The components of the 207 million to be collected in 2010 are shown on slide 17. So overall a fair outcome that helps us mitigate the cost impact to customers but gives us a clear path to recovering our investment.

On slide 18, we summarize our adjusted O&M comparison where you can see a 2.7% decline in O&M compared to 2008. This is directly attributable to our employees’ focus on belt tightening but on sustained continuous business excellence.

And then just one item commencing with regard to the balance sheet is that the credit metrics calculated strictly from the financial statements have improved in the manner we had forecasted. So leverage when compared to December 31, 2008 is down approximately 2%, so 55% versus 57, and our FFO to debt and FFO to interest numbers have both improved due primarily to collection of deferred fuel balances and decreased margin collateral posted on fuel (indiscernible).

So on slide 19, a few reminders about our comparisons to last year, as Bill said, we have reaffirmed our ongoing earnings per share range of 2.95 to 3.15 per share and a (ph) 2.53 through three quarters we are on track to deliver in that range.

Our fourth quarter of 2008 included $0.02 of below normal weather and $0.06 of Harris depreciation that will not recur.

So there – while there are still some certainty about revenues they seem to have stabilized, we still remain cautious about top line risk, so considering all of those factors, we’re very comfortable with the 2.95 to 3.15 range for 2009 ongoing earnings per share.

So now, I’ll turn it back to Bill for closing remarks and questions.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Thanks, Mark. Before we open the line for your questions, I want to underscore two main points that are shown on slide 20.

First, we’re on track to deliver on our 2009 ongoing earnings guidance. And second, we’re focused on a strong finish to the year that includes taking the next steps toward resolving the Florida rate case, and include sustaining our rigorous cost management. It also includes successful outage execution and completion of our major capital projects for the year.

So at this time we’ll be glad to take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) We’ll go first to Ashar Khan with Incremental Capital.

Ashar Khan – Incremental Capital

Good morning, how are you doing?

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Good morning, Ashar.

Mark F. Mulhern

Good morning.

Ashar Khan – Incremental Capital

The way I heard the proceedings of Florida, proceeding I was pretty clear that progress had to control, whether they wanted to go ahead and put the interim rates into effect on January 1, and for – following to (ph) discourse it was – I got a pretty clear sensitive, they laid decision in your head, so could you tell us, will you be implementing or not implementing because they believe that you had the right to implement. You just had the judgment whether you want to do it or you didn’t want to do it? And I wanted to get a sense of what your thinking is right now?

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Well, you have I think accurately described the situation as we understand the statute Florida says that rates in this situation shall go into effect at a certain time. The commission has encouraged us to find a way to think about not doing that and we don’t know the answer yet, the other side is to what will happen. There are couple of ways this could be resolved for example, if you could find some way to have a rate order in late January that (indiscernible) for the month or two that you would miss, if you didn’t put them into effect, that might be a solution. So we are thinking about solutions and have yet to make a decision about what we’ll do on January 1.

Ashar Khan – Incremental Capital

So I guess what you are saying is that you probably thinking of some true-up mechanism which gives you that one month or two months in the worst case, and holds you through and so we will hear something about it pretty soon. And that is the mechanism that you are kind of like going forward rather than putting the rates into impact themselves.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

That’s one of many options we are considering. We have not come to a conclusion about whether those rates will self implement on January 1, and we will make an announcement where we have a decision to have to file something, that’s the best I can do.

Ashar Khan – Incremental Capital

Okay. And then could you just tell us how the rate case hearings went, I mean, PL despite all the stuff said that hearings went okay, could you kind of elaborate from your perspective how the hearings went on the rate case.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

I can only elaborate on how the hearings went for us.

Ashar Khan – Incremental Capital

Yeah, that’s what I mean.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Yeah, they are televised now so you can watch them on your computer.

Ashar Khan – Incremental Capital

Yeah, but I – you have a better sense than I do from the sound bytes.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Yeah, no we watched quite a bit of it, and I thought it went very well. As I said in my comments, we had a very straightforward case based on the investments we have made and the cost we have incurred much have always done under commission order at least when we explained to what we were doing so we didn’t have any surprises, that was pretty straightforward. I though our witnesses did a very good job of explaining our physicians of putting the facts our there so I though we did a good job of explaining our side of the equation.

Ashar Khan – Incremental Capital

And so is still the four to 5% growth rate still intact as we look forward.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

We say four to 5% is our target over of the longer term. When you are in economic circumstances like this and when you have a little regulatory uncertainties we have in Florida in the shorter term you may not be able to produce those results. So four to 5% over the longer term assuming sort of a return to normal economics and normal patterns.

Ashar Khan – Incremental Capital

But does – but is that in 2010 do you look at that or is that like going beyond 2010 as you see sales and everything in the economy right now.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

I would say the four to 5% longer term would go past 2010 but we are not making any comments on, and as you know we never give guidance until beginning of the year so we are not making any comment on 2010 here

Ashar Khan – Incremental Capital

Okay, thank you very much.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Thanks.

Operator

We’ll go next to Steve Fleishman with Merrill Lynch.

Steven Fleishman - Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch

Yeah, hi gentlemen.

Mark F. Mulhern

Hey Steve.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Good morning, Steve.

Steven Fleishman - Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch

Hi. Couple questions. First, I believe in listening to a recent hearing your – I think you said your sales forecast in the rate case you are now trailing that maybe $100 million. Is that correct?

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Yeah, we – when we filed the rate case early this year, it was obviously based on numbers from before the filing. And so between the filing of that case to preparation of the information for the filing in today, you are probably off in that neighborhood 95 or 100 million, yes.

Steven Fleishman - Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch

Okay. Are there other things have offset since then so that if you get – get in order with your that sales forecast and how you presented the rest of your case that you could still potentially earn the rate of return or you are going to have trouble earning your rate of return because of that?

Mark F. Mulhern

Steve, it’s Mark. I think that we hadn’t really projected exactly what the numbers are going to look like in the ’10, but I think we can get close to whatever rate of return we have. Even though we’ve had a little softening in sales, we expect things to get a little better here as we go forward. So I would say we still think we can get there.

Steven Fleishman - Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch

Okay. And then one other unrelated question on the Crystal River 3 outage.

Mark F. Mulhern

Yeah.

Steven Fleishman - Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch

Can you just talk – there was some thing that came out a few weeks ago about you guys finding some cracks? Just update that. And is the outage going to get done on time, is this going to delay it or, any color on that?

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Yeah, so in this outage we had to cut a hole in the side of the containment building about 23 foot-square so you can move steam generators in and out, you know steam generator is bigger than a railroad boxcar. So it’s hard to get them in. this is a pretty standard technique that’s been used many times. When we cut the hole, we discovered a crack around some big rebar in that section of the reactor – not the reactor, the containment building, excuse me. So we don’t yet know the cause of this.

When you deal with something like this, here is what you have to figure what – what caused it, what the repair is, does the repair make sure that it never happens again and do you meet your design basis for the stability of the structure and the purpose of the structure. And then also there is a lot of regulatory interface to make sure that the regulator, the NRC, is comfortable with the answers you have to those questions. We are working through that, we are working through four parallel phase of trying to resolve these things.

We are a couple weeks away from knowing what the exact root cause and what the repair plan will be. So at this point we don’t know weather it delays the outage or what that will mean. So we are couple of weeks away Steve from knowing those answers.

Steven Fleishman - Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch

Okay. Would your fuel costs and part of with that matter at all, could it affect like wholesale sales maybe or if it were to get delayed or is it just because of the fuel costs it doesn’t do anything?

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Well, if we are delayed and we have to purchase power or burn more expensive fuel it will have obviously increase fuel costs. So you would put those through to fuel cost and fuel cost does matter because it affects the customer’s rates. So we would do everything we could to minimize the impact of that but that would be the major impact I think Steve.

Steven Fleishman - Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch

Okay. Thanks very much.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Our next question comes from Mark Sigal with Canaccord Adams.

Mark Sigal - Canaccord Adams, Inc.

Hi, good morning and thanks for taking my question. I was just curious given the recent smartgoods stimulus award, what should we look for from a timing perspective for PUC proceedings and key vendor selections regarding (ph) smart metering and other related technology offerings?

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Well, that’s a good question. We got to grant Wednesday, so what I am trying to say actually we have been doing a lot of work on (indiscernible) and smartgood in both of the utilities and Caroline has already some regulatory approvals for some of the steps we have taken and we have a mechanism to recover some of those costs. I thinks we are ways away from either having announcement of major vendors. We have been working through vendors. We are making progress but I would think probably in the first quarter, the first time you are going to see the items you described.

Mark Sigal - Canaccord Adams, Inc.

All right, great. Thank you.

Operator

We will next to Michael Worms with BMO.

Michael Worms - BMO Capital Markets

Good morning Bill and Mark how are you doing?

Mark F. Mulhern

Hi Mike.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Good morning Michael.

Michael Worms - BMO Capital Markets

Thank you. Just a quick question, has there been a schedule or date set when your staff will actually make its recommendations to the commission in Florida?

William (Bill) D. Johnson

There is a scheduled date for the recommendation but we don’t know whether it’s going to hold. I mean there is a date on this schedule but there has been some uncertainty in that schedule, Michael. So we don’t know whether that date is going to hold or not.

Michael Worms - BMO Capital Markets

Can you just remind us of what that date is?

Mark F. Mulhern

It was November 10th, Mike.

Michael Worms - BMO Capital Markets

Thank you.

Mark F. Mulhern

Sure.

Operator

Our next question comes from Edward Heyn with Catapult Capital.

Edward Heyn - Catapult Capital

Good morning.

Mark F. Mulhern

Morning Edward.

Edward Heyn - Catapult Capital

Just had a quick question, you mentioned a little about this PUC ruling to allow you to book AFUDC as opposed to CP rates on deferred nuclear spend, can you just give a little more color on were you booking, it seems like you have deferred several hundred million dollars I think in this year just to mitigate the rate impact, can you – have you. You have not been booking that spread between your (ph) CPN AFUDC and recognize the gain in this quarter? Is that the correct way to think about it?

Mark F. Mulhern

Yeah, we have been booking at basically commercial paper rates. We did adjust those based on the outcome of that decision to AFUDC rate and that is the $0.2 I referred to in my comment.

Edward Heyn - Catapult Capital

Got you. And ongoing you’re just going to recognize that benefit as until that asset is amortized down over the next (indiscernible) years or something?

Mark F. Mulhern

That’s correct.

Edward Heyn - Catapult Capital

Okay, good. And just one quick clarification on I think that the Carolina is used – you said in the earnings walk that there was something about a change to an environmental reserve or something. What was that? I think in the O&M.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Up or down?

Edward Heyn - Catapult Capital

O&M was up. Okay, yeah O&M was up six, it was a $0.6 benefit and that has included some changes to an environmental reserve.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Yeah, and we’re just kibitzing here a little bit. (indiscernible) tell me that we had a higher – we got an environmental issue in the Carolina called the wood transformer. We had a higher accrual last year that’s decreased a little bit in a couple of million dollars in 200. So not a (indiscernible)

Edward Heyn - Catapult Capital

Got you okay.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

You (indiscernible) missing too closely (indiscernible).

Edward Heyn - Catapult Capital

There’s a lot of things out there (indiscernible) right. All right, thanks a lot guy. I appreciate (indiscernible)

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Thank you.

Mark F. Mulhern

Thanks.

Operator

Our next question comes from the Jonathan Reeder with Wells Fargo.

Jonathan Reeder - Wells Fargo Securities

Good morning gentlemen, quick clarification on the comments on industrial sales particularly in the third quarter in the Carolina. It looks like they were down 3.1%. Can you remind us Q3 ’08 was that depressed already in the industrial sales or – I know you said it was a noticeable sequential pickup over Q2 but year-over-year it looks like it’s lot better than year-to-date.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Yeah, we are (indiscernible) as you know from comparison, right. So 3.1 year-on-year you had a 3.1 number that you cited for this quarter. I think third quarter of ’08 industrials in Carolina on a kilowatt sales basis for…just looking at the numbers here. Hang on a second. They were down fairly significantly like 7 or 8% from the prior year.

Jonathan Reeder - Wells Fargo Securities

Okay, so this has more to do with the easier comps, that number looking as good as it does.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Yes, would I would say is our industrials were benefitting obviously from comparisons, I think that as we said, kind of stabilized, not really seeing dramatic improvement there in any way shape or form, so the numbers, while they look good, you know there is a reason we included that chart. There’s a seasonality to this whole thing. So I think when you think about the quarter you’re looking at now, the quarter end of September 30, you got (indiscernible), you got a peak season. So you have I think to be bound by how you look at those numbers. I would say we are relatively comfortable as it improved slightly but again not a positive upward trend as I guess to be excited about.

Jonathan Reeder - Wells Fargo Securities

Okay thanks for the additional comment.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Welcome.

Operator

At this time, we have no further question in the queue. I would like to turn the call back to Bill Johnson for any additional or closing remarks.

William (Bill) D. Johnson

Yeah, thanks for being on the call this morning. I know you all are busy. We look forward to seeing many of you in a few days (indiscernible) Florida. Thanks.

Operator

This does conclude today’s conference. Again we thank you for you participation.

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Source: Progress Energy, Inc. 3Q09 (Qtr End 9/30/09) Earnings Call Transcript
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