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Unitil Corp. Beats on Earnings, Revs

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Unitil Corp. reported first-quarter 2014 earnings of 91 cents per share, surpassing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 80 cents by 13.8%. Quarterly earnings increased 15.2% year over year on the back of higher natural gas and electricity sales and margins.

Total Revenue

In the first quarter 2014, Unitil Corporation posted total operating revenues of $156.1 million, beating the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 19.9%. Quarterly revenues also increased 32.1% year over year due to a severe winter and steady customer growth.

Segment Details

Gas: Segment revenue increased 30.8% to $92.6 million from $70.8 million in the first quarter of 2013, driven by higher therm unit sales, growing customer demand and lately approved distribution rates.

Electric: Segment revenue increased 34.9% to $61.9 million from $45.9 million in the first quarter of 2013 due to higher electric kilowatt-hour (kWh) sales and recently approved electric distribution rates.

Other: Revenue from Unitil’s non-regulated energy brokering business segment lifted 6.7% to $1.6 million.

Highlights of the Release

Total operating expenses in the reported quarter were $130.7 million, increasing 35.7% from the prior-year period mainly due to a respective 55.3% and 39.2% increase in the cost of Gas and Electric sales.

Total electricity sales volume was up 5.0% year over year to 447.0 million kWh. Total gas sales volume increased 14.9% to 93.4 million therm from 81.3 million therm a year ago. Sales improvement was seen across all customer groups including commercial/industrial and residential.

The company’s net interest expense increased 13.0% to $5.2 million from $4.6 million a year ago due to lower interest income on regulatory assets.

Financial Update

Unitil Corp’s cash and cash equivalents as of Mar 31, 2014, were $14.3 million versus $7.5 million as of Mar 31, 2013.

Long-term debt (less current portion) as of Mar 31, 2014, was $284.7 million compared with $287.2 million as of Mar 31, 2013.

During the first quarter of 2014, cash provided by operating activities was $28.7 million versus $40.8 million in the year-ago quarter.

Dividend Update

Recently, Unitil Corp announced that its board of directors approved a regular quarterly dividend of 34.5 cents per share on the company’s common stock. On an annualized basis, the dividend rate stands at $1.38 per share. The dividend yield of the company is 4.27%, much higher than the industry average of 2.10%.

Peer Releases

NRG Energy, Inc. is scheduled to release its first quarter earnings on May 6. The Zacks Consensus Estimate is currently at a loss of 12 cents.

Ameren Corp. is scheduled to release its first quarter earnings on May 8. The Zacks Consensus Estimate is currently at 32 cents.

Calpine Corp. is scheduled to release its first quarter earnings on May 1. The Zacks Consensus Estimate is currently at a loss of 6 cents.

Zacks Rank

Unitil Corporation currently has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

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