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Executives

Robert L. Goocher - Vice President of Investor Relations and Treasurer

Carl L. Chapman - Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer and President

Jerome A. Benkert - Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President, President of Vectren Shared Services and Director of VUHI

Analysts

Sarah Akers - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

Michael E. Gaugler - Brean Murray, Carret & Co., LLC, Research Division

Vectren (VVC) Q2 2012 Earnings Call August 2, 2012 3:00 PM ET

Operator

Good afternoon, my name is Adam, and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Vectren Corporation Second Quarter Earnings Call. [Operator Instructions] Thank you. Robert Goocher, Treasurer and Vice President of Investor Relations for Vectren Corporation, you may begin your conference.

Robert L. Goocher

Thank you, operator. Good afternoon, and thank all of you for joining us on the call today to review our 2012 second quarter results. This call is being webcast, and shortly following its conclusion, a replay will be available on our website at vectren.com in the Investor Relations section. Yesterday, we released our quarterly earnings, and this morning we filed our second quarter 10-Q. Copies of our earnings release, today's slide presentation and the 10-Q can all be found on our website.

As further described on Slide 2, I would like to remind you that many of the statements made on this call will be forward-looking statements. Actual results may differ materially from those discussed in this presentation.

Carl Chapman, Vectren's Chairman, President and CEO, will provide opening comments on the quarter and review our updated 2012 earnings guidance before turning it over to Jerry Benkert, Executive Vice President and CFO, who will further discuss second quarter results and expectations from the specific businesses for the remainder of 2012. Following our prepared remarks, we will be glad to answer questions. Also joining us on today's call is Ron Christian, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal and External Affairs Officer.

With that, I'll turn it over to Carl.

Carl L. Chapman

Thanks, Robert. I'd also like to welcome everyone to today's call, and as always, we appreciate your interest in Vectren.

Turning to Slide 3 and 4, I'd like to start by saying I'm very pleased with our second quarter and year-to-date results, which were well above earnings levels in 2011. Consolidated net income for the second quarter was $25.6 million or $0.31 per share, compared to net income of $15.1 million or $0.19 per share in 2011. Year-to-date, 2012 earnings were $76.9 million or $0.94 per share compared to $59.7 million or $0.73 per share in 2011.

Utility group second quarter earnings were up almost $4 million over the prior-year period, primarily due to the new electric base rates implemented in May 2011. In addition, interest expense associated with our utility operations is lower in 2012, and last year, we were able to refinance a portion of our long-term debt and take advantage of the low interest rate environment. Overall, our utility group's strong first half of 2012 has put us in position to earn at or near our allowed returns in 2012, a goal we established back in February.

Nonutility results also showed improvement in the quarter, up $6.5 million over 2011. The exceptional performance of our Infrastructure Services segment, reflecting strong demand for its services and favorable construction conditions, led the way for the improved nonutility results. In addition, ProLiance results have improved as expected over the corresponding 2011 period, primarily due to lower fixed demand cost. Second quarter and year-to-date nonutility earnings were hampered, however, by the disappointing performance of our Coal Mining segment, which like many other Coal Mining operations, has been impacted by weak demand across the industry. Jerry will provide some details later around our outlook for Coal Mining for the remainder of 2012.

Now let me just share a few broad thoughts about Vectren's investment in Coal Mining. Our performance year-to-date, and expected loss for the year, is driven by nearly 2 million tons of lower-than-expected sales due to mild winter and low natural gas prices. While demand softness, due to the inventory build, may carry into 2013, we continue to be confident in the long-term outlook for Illinois Basin coal and believe that delays in the execution of term contracts are directly related to the temporary high coal inventory levels of current and potential customers.

At Central Appalachian, coal production continues to decline, and scrubbers continue to be installed in order to meet the EPA air quality standards. We believe our coal mines are well positioned to capture future sales when demand recovers. Market indicators suggest improving demand in 2013, with supply and demand more in balance by 2014. While I'm not able to give specific guidance for 2013, we are hopeful of greater sales and improvement beyond that in 2014. With that said, we're not satisfied with current results from our Coal Mining segment and are aggressively pursuing new contracts, including spot and export sales, in order to secure better short-term as well as long-term results. As we've previously stated, the execution of additional term contracts will allow us to give greater clarity on the timing of opening the second mine at our Oaktown, Indiana mining complex. In the meantime, we are completing the remaining development work in order to be positioned to open this to mine, and sales contracts will support the additional production. Somewhat offsetting the weakness in the coal mining operations was the continued outstanding performance of our Infrastructure Services business, which continues to exceed our expectations.

In addition to the very strong demand in both the distribution and transmission segments of this business, year-to-date results have also been positively impacted by favorable construction weather in the first half of the year. Jerry will provide some additional color around 2012 results in a few minutes. However, from a longer-term perspective, we continue to believe that there are greater opportunities in this business, with the required repair and replacement of aging natural gas and oil pipeline infrastructure, along with new pipeline construction opportunities related to the development of oil and natural gas reserves located in the many shale basins found throughout much of the U.S.

Moving on, as we look ahead to the rest of the year and to guidance on Slide 5, we expect our core utility operations to exceed our initial 2012 expectations due to a continued focus on cost management and some benefit from warm summer weather. As a result, we're raising our 2012 utility guidance by $0.5, to a range of $1.65 to $1.75 per share.

Turning to our nonutility outlook, our Infrastructure business continues to have a bright outlook for 2012, resulting in increase in our 2012 earnings expectations for this business. Again, Jerry will discuss that further later. However, the pressure of near-term weakness and demand for coal is causing us to reduce our expectations for the Coal Mining business in 2012. As a result, we're lowering our nonutility guidance, excluding ProLiance, by $0.12 per share, to a range of $0.18 to $0.28 per share, which also includes a slightly lower expectation for energy services for the year.

Finally, while ProLiance results, year-to-date, are on plan, and much improved over 2011, we're modestly lowering our guidance for the year, by $0.03 per share, to acknowledge some uncertainty around the timing of earnings recognition for the hedges of 2012, '13, with ProLiance's locked in to capture improved seasonal spreads. In total, then, we're lowering our consolidated 2012 guidance by $0.10, to $1.65 to $1.85 per share. Within that range, our core utility earnings, though, have increased over 90% of Vectren's expected 2012 earnings.

Before I turn it over to Jerry, let me discuss our guidance and valuation perspective just a bit further.

Midpoint of guidance, on Slide 5, is $1.75. Excluding the loss of ProLiance and coal, it is $2. Our view is, you can't take the $1.75, apply a pure multiple out, for example, 16.5x, to make a fair determination of Vectren's true value. While I'm personally disappointed by the losses in any of our businesses, they're also motivating. We don't see them continuing long-term. The losses over the businesses they relate to shouldn't be valued in a punitive manner that assumes they're ongoing. Of course, multiplying the $1.75 per share times an unadjusted P/E multiple, by definition, assigns a negative value to both businesses, which is not correct.

So, our view on valuation is we must take a sum-of-the-parts approach by valuing each business independently. The core business for Vectren is obviously our utility operations, which generate the lion's share of our consolidated earnings. In addition, our utility operations are generally earning their allowed returns. These strong results also allowed us to raise guidance for these utility operations in 2012.

Infrastructure Services is a particularly bright spot where we raised guidance for the second time this year, and we see an extended demand driven growth cycle that is expected to support additional earnings growth. While energy services is not expected to be a major contributor to 2012 results, with the U.S. becoming increasingly focused on energy efficiency, sustainability and renewable energy, we continue to believe that, longer term, this business will also be the source of more significant earnings growth opportunities.

Coal Mining, on the other hand, has clearly been pushed into a loss position by the near-term weakness in demand for coal throughout the U.S. But we believe, and others have commented, that demand and supply in Illinois basin should be back in balance by 2014.

ProLiance's turnaround plan is on track and losses are trending down as expected. We see that trend continuing as contracts for natural gas storage and transportation are renegotiated or dropped.

Because of the very nature of these businesses, as I mentioned earlier, we believe the value for Vectren should be established separately for each business. Also as you think about Vectren, where we're headed in the future, I'll remind you of our strategy for long-term earnings growth. Vectren will remain anchored by our strong utility operations, with upside earnings opportunities from our nonutility businesses. Our focus for additional nonutility earnings growth opportunities will be in the infrastructure services and energy services businesses. In addition, we will continue to nurture the investments we've already made in our Coal Mining business, and we'll work with ProLiance to complete their turnaround plan to position the gas marketing business for a return to profitability.

With that, I'll turn it over to Jerry who'll discuss the various business units results. Jerry?

Jerome A. Benkert

Okay, thanks, Carl. Carl just hit on our key message of the day, but I will add a bit of business detail before we wrap up.

ProLiance saw a second quarter loss, looking on Slide 6, of $5.2 million, which is a $4 million improvement over 2011. This improvement was driven by a reduction in annual demand cost in 2012 as compared to 2011, which we still project will total $18 million, at the ProLiance level, for the full year. We're also pleased that ProLiance was able to execute a new 2-year $120 million lending facility, in May, that will provide ProLiance the ability to effectively manage its working capital needs for the next 2 years. Combined with the seasonal hedges that ProLiance has already locked in, we continue to believe the lower fixed demand cost will enable ProLiance to achieve much improved annual results in 2012 versus '11. We're slightly lowering, though, the 2012 guidance range midpoint by $2 million to a loss of $14.5 million, due to the timing uncertainty around the benefit of certain seasonal spread hedges which will be recognized in late 2012 or in 2013, depending upon when the gas storage is withdrawn from inventory. Still, the projected 2012 results would result in an $8 million improvement over 2011. Also, in addition to the $18 million of further demand cost expiring by 2015, that we have previously discussed, ProLiance recently secured another $4 million of reductions beginning in 2013. As a result, we now project that 2013 results, at ProLiance level, will benefit from another $10 million of demand reductions beyond those reflected in 2012.

Turning to Slide 7, our Coal Mining group had second quarter earnings of $2.5 million. That was $6 million lower than the comparable 2011 quarter. The decline was driven by weak demand due to increased coal inventories at most power plants, caused by the mild first quarter weather and the continued low natural gas prices, which has eroded some near-term demand for coal-fired generation. For those of you who may be wondering, our expectation is that as gas prices climb back over the $3 level, there will be less switching in the Midwest, from Illinois basin coal to natural gas as fuel for electric generation. I wanted to make this point because there's been a lot of discussion these days about coal to gas switching. And while generators in the MISO footprint have experienced some switching this year, when gas costs were extremely low, in the $2 to $3 range, Illinois basin coal remains very competitive in the current $3-plus pricing environment for natural gas.

Turning attention back to the second quarter results, mining costs at the Prosperity mine, while improved over the first quarter, continue to be higher than expected, due to thin coal seams and other unfavorable mining conditions. On the other hand, the continued strong performance at our Oaktown 1 mine has been very encouraging and has mitigated, to a great extent, the higher cost at Prosperity. Of course, these cost per ton sold are still higher than expected, as we continue to lower production to more closely match demand, and the fixed cost are located over pure tons. In fact, had it not been for the weak demand driving sales lower, resulting in scaled back production, the projected average cost per ton for 2012 would have been about $4 per ton more. As Carl indicated, we are lowering the midpoint of the range, for our 2012 Coal Mining expectations, to a loss of $6 million. The revised estimate is based on a production level of 4.8 million tons and sales of 4.2 million tons and lower margins for the year. Considering our lower sales projection, we now have all but 300,000 tons under contract for 2012.

Turning to Slide 8, you'll see that energy services, our performance contracting and renewable energy services group, was at breakeven for the quarter. We saw continued weakness in the near-term demand for the performance contracting projects, as well as additional cost associated with our planned hiring ramp-up. Due to the slowdown in execution of new contracts, we are revising down, slightly, our energy services 2012 earnings range midpoint to $1.5 million from the previous $3 million. Even amid some lower near-term demand for energy efficiency projects, there are still nice opportunities that exist where we have won a competitive bidding process. For example, in the second quarter, Energy Systems Group, along with a venture partner -- joint venture partner, was awarded a 3-year $57 million energy efficiency project at the U.S. naval facility in North Chicago, Illinois. ESG, and its partner in this project, will decentralize the facility's 110-building central steam system and replace it with individual boilers and hot water systems. ESG will also aggressively compete for the project's second phase, which will be to decommission and remove the old steam session -- system. This was a nice win for ESG, and is important for maintaining and building additional expertise and experience in the military and federal government markets.

On the renewable energy front, ESG now has 3 anaerobic digester projects in Wisconsin, producing power from dairy farm waste. As we continue to grow our expertise in these type of projects, we look to win additional projects in the areas where the regulatory and operational environments provide the opportunity to obtain our desired risk-adjusted returns. Longer-term, we still believe customers' need for performance contracting and renewable energy solutions will continue to grow with the passage of time, as they look for additional ways to manage energy cost to meet budget needs particularly as power crisis across the country rise over the next few years, further pressuring already strained municipal and state budgets. We believe these budget pressures will eventually outlay the public perception concerns that municipals and schools currently face, as they evaluate decisions to engage in visible new energy efficiency projects, which, while providing annual savings opportunities, are being considered at the same time that they have to reduce other cost such as the number of teachers.

On Slide 9, our Infrastructure Services segment saw second quarter earnings of $8.4 million, an increase of $6.3 million over the prior year. Construction conditions have been optimal for the first half of 2012. Mild winter weather followed by a dry spring, coupled with strong demand by both transmission and distribution customers, drove Infrastructure Services' performance well beyond expectations for the first half of the year. Assuming normal weather conditions, we would expect to see continued strength during our primary construction season. We need to constrain our optimism, somewhat though, for the remainder of 2012, as some of Miller's utility customers may be depleting their annual construction budgets earlier than in most years due to the favorable construction conditions that have existed during the first half of the year.

All told, given the continued strong demand for construction of shale gas and oil transmission infrastructure, and the excellent performance year-to-date, we are raising our 2012 guidance for a second time, now to a range midpoint of $23.5 million. At this level, we would see more than an $8 million increase over our strong earnings in 2011, and over a $20 million increase as compared to 2010.

Moving on to Slide 10, our utility group second quarter earnings were up approximately $4 million over the prior-year quarter, and approximately $11 million year-to-date. Two key factors contributed to the successful first half of the first half for the year. The new electric base rates continue to provide competitive benefits into the second quarter of 2012, and refinancing of the utility long-term debt in 2011 has reduced interest expense substantially.

So as Carl mentioned earlier, we're very pleased with the results of our utility businesses, which continued to achieve, including the expectation to earn at or near their allowed returns in 2012. With expense reductions in place for the second half of the year, we have raised our utility guidance for the year by $4 million, to a midpoint of $139 million.

Turning to the regulatory front for a minute. Earlier this month, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission ruled against our request to begin immediate recovery of the Dense Pack investments at our power plants. As you may recall, Dense Packs improve the efficiency of steam turbines and reduce the amount of coal needed to produce the same amount of energy. Despite this recent ruling though, we still have favorable accounting treatment for deferral of depreciation and continued AFUDC accrual until the next base rate case, as it was provided for in the commission's April 2011 rate case order. Also on the regulatory front in the second quarter was news that the IURC approved our request for the loss margin recovery related to the implementation of the energy efficiency programs by small electric customers. This approval adds to our previously approved loss margin recovery mechanism for large electric customers. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture, we continue to believe that the overall regulatory and legislative environments, in both Indiana and Ohio, remain very constructive.

Let's turn to Slide 11 for a few wrap-up thoughts. We are very pleased with the improvements in our consolidated results for the quarter, and the year-to-date, compared to 2011. As we look to the remainder of 2012, and add in year-to-date results, we note the high-quality for the expected earnings for the full-year 2012, where the lion's share of the results are being delivered by our solid core utility operations. And while we are disappointed with the expected losses for ProLiance and Coal Mining, we consider them challenges and future opportunities for earnings growth. Carl covered well our view that the value and the market opportunity that it may present, if value is not fully recognized due to near-term losses of these businesses, reducing our consolidated earnings, we view that as future opportunity.

Operator, that concludes our prepared remarks. And we're now ready for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Your first question comes from the line of Sarah Akers from Wells Fargo.

Sarah Akers - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

Do you guys have an updated hedge percentage for Coal Mining in 2013? I know last time, it was 40% but the volume may have changed.

Carl L. Chapman

Yes, that's not a number that we're prepared to share today, Sarah. Again, what we're suggesting is that we do need to see a better answer on demand. And you're right, the volume might well change. And the real issue is that the utilities have been able to delay their decisions for 2013. So our discussions are still good. We still feel good about many of those discussions that we've been having, but what we need is for them to make their final decisions and they've been able to delay that. So we really don't have anything at this point.

Sarah Akers - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

Okay, but the contracts associated with the 40% that you previously talked about, those are still in place. It's just a question of what is the overall sales outlook?

Carl L. Chapman

Yes, those volumes are still in place. As we've shared before, we really have not had customers who have reduced volumes other than within just the typical optionality that's in a typical Illinois basin contract.

Sarah Akers - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

Got it. And then on the energy services, I know you're ramping up the workforce in an expectation of increased demand. If the demand does not materialize, is it fairly easy to scale back on the workforce in order to improve profitability?

Carl L. Chapman

Yes, I think of that is fairly easy. Obviously, there are always some severance costs that you would have to incur. But, we really think, with power prices rising, the customers that we typically serve, they will always talk about municipals and the schools, et cetera. They're just going to have to come to grips with rising budgets. And even though they have pressures today related to that visibility issue, that Jerry talked about, where you don't want to do an energy project if you're laying of a teacher, they going to have to come to grips with those as power prices rise across the country.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Michael Gaugler from Brean Murray, Carret.

Michael E. Gaugler - Brean Murray, Carret & Co., LLC, Research Division

My question also surrounds the Coal Mining ops. I'm wondering if perhaps you could give us little color in terms of sales tonnage and pricing, where your breakeven point is right now, under the current mine configuration.

Carl L. Chapman

Well, what we try to do is too really provide for you. We've not quoted market prices at this point, although there readily available, as you know. The real issue, though, is that you look at those market price, while they're readily available, there's just not a lot of coal being transacted. But what we did do is provide, as always, our update to our projection for the year and, of course, we also gave our guidance at the start of the year. And then we also commented that this reduced volume has had a $4 a ton, roughly, impact. And so, that'll give you some ways to sort of look at it, but at this point, we're really not prepared to provide specific cost per ton beyond what we have done in our metrics.

Jerome A. Benkert

Brian, and the problem -- and, obviously, the problem in trying to answer the question around the breakeven is it's a moving target. Our opportunity for significantly lower cost, as we ramp up the production, is clear, which makes that sort of a moving number.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of John Hanson [ph] from Praesidis [ph].

Unknown Analyst

Just, again, probably probing the coal just a little bit, to see where we might end up next year. You expect to see some volumes pushed from contracts this year into next year?

Carl L. Chapman

No. As we've shared before, we really have not been experiencing that. What we've experienced is the typical optionally that's provided often in the Illinois basin contract. Customers have taken advantage of that. But we have not seen big deferrals and don't really expect to see that the rest of the way. The real issue for us, as I mentioned -- the real issue for us is utilities have been able to delay their decisions for 2013 because of their own coal pile situation that started with the very warm winter and then continued with the lower gas cost earlier in the year.

Unknown Analyst

Any idea what kind of gas cost it would take to get the folks back to contracting again?

Carl L. Chapman

Well, as Jerry described, we think, as the gas moves back over the $3 range. In the MISO footprint, we think, again, a lot of the switching is not the same, with the lower $2 to $3 gas. But in terms of when customers will start contracting again, that's really -- not only is an issue of the gas cost, but it's also an issue of just their ability to get their coal piles down to a level they're more comfortable with.

Unknown Analyst

Okay. I'm trying to understand how we switched from going from profit to a loss this year. I'm just trying understand some of the -- you sell to your own utility, right?

Carl L. Chapman

Well, some of our tonnage does go to our own utility under contracts that the commission has signed off on.

Unknown Analyst

Are those contracts up for any kind of renewal based on any kind of openers or anything like that or are they pretty well firm here for last couple of years?

Carl L. Chapman

Well, actually, what we described at the start of the year is, including our utility, we did have contracts that came up in this year and, of course, some of those have been entered at much higher prices in the past. But there really are no significant issues with our own utility, here, on volume. It's other customers that simply have delayed as we've anticipated new contracts, as well as finalizing those where there are some reopeners and they just have taken longer to sign up for those contracts.

Jerome A. Benkert

John, we've been ramping up tonnage produced and sold in coal obviously, the last several years. So last year, 2011 had stepped up to just over 5 million tons. And before the extremely mild winter took place in sort of record setting, we expected this year to go up over 6 million tons. So as that's gone on, we've also ramped up production capability when that 6 million tons has not materialized now or that's our projection for the year. And we'll step back and reverse to 4 million tons and we're sitting here with more production capability, more fixed cost and less tonnage to spread it over. That's really the piece at play. There isn't a whole lot else that's significant other than moving the tonnage back up where we expect that to be and closer to what our capability is.

Unknown Analyst

Just a little bit on -- you also mentioned that you're still talking about Oaktown 2, would add to the production. Remind us, again, are those costs that you're incurring now or are they already -- just are they on the balance sheet or -- what's story there?

Jerome A. Benkert

They're currently on the balance sheet. We haven't begun production there. We're nearing a point where we could. And the timing, when we describe Oaktown 2 a little bit, even though we've been trying to estimate it, obviously, it's always been tied to additional sales and so we're no longer counting on that opening up in the 2012 year. We see that, again, tied to additional sales contracts.

Unknown Analyst

At one time we were hoping we might see selling stuff on export. Is there anything on that?

Jerome A. Benkert

Yes, we do continue to work with export customers, although just like the domestic, at this point, the export market has been cut back as well. And its, again, a case of where piles are higher and they're delaying the decisions. But we have opened the door to some experts’ sales. And not huge, but a decent number for us. And we'll keep looking for more there.

Unknown Analyst

I know we've seen some things within the Eastern part of the country where we're starting to talk about closing coal plants here in a couple of years, because of some EPA things, does that affect any of your customers or your prospective customers there?

Jerome A. Benkert

Well, it doesn't affect our existing customers at all because you really have to have a scrub plant in order to burn our coal. They could blend it with some other coal, but generally speaking, they're going to have a step scrub plant. And the plants that are being discussed for shutdown are those that haven't been running an awful lot. And as we look at the Illinois basin situation, while there could well be, not our customers, but in total, some coal reduced from shutdown of plants. We also think though that, with the shutdown the central App mines, and no new mines being permitted, or at least not at the level it used to be, and also all the scrubbers being installed, we really believe that there's growth for the Illinois Basin in coal, not reduction.

Operator

There are no further questions at this time. I would like to turn the call back to Mr. Goocher.

Robert L. Goocher

Thank you, operator. We would like to thank everyone for joining us on our call today. On behalf of our entire team, we appreciate your continued interest in Vectren, and invite you to please contact us if you have any follow-up questions. With that, we'll conclude our call for today. Thanks again for your participation.

Operator

This concludes today's conference. You may disconnect.

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