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Southern (SO) Beats on Q4 Earnings, Sticks to Vogtle Timeline

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Power supplier Southern Company SO reported fourth-quarter 2019 earnings per share (excluding certain one-time items) of 27 cents, surpassing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 26 cents and the year-ago profit of 25 cents. The robust performance primarily stemmed from positive effects of rates and pricing changes, as well as lower operating expenses.

Leveraging the demographics of its operating territories (as in healthy population and job growth), the firm has been able to consistently expand its regulated business customer base. As part of that plan, Southern Company has added 41,000 residential electric and 30,000 residential gas customers in 2019, underpinning growth.

The Atlanta-based utility’s quarterly revenue – at $4.9 billion – missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $5 billion and was 7.9% lower than  fourth-quarter 2018 sales on account of loss of revenues from asset dispositions.

Southern Company (The) Price, Consensus and EPS Surprise


Southern Company (The) Price, Consensus and EPS Surprise

Southern Company (The) price-consensus-eps-surprise-chart | Southern Company (The) Quote

Vogtle Updates

Per Southern Company’s latest earnings presentation, it continues to progress toward completing the Units 3 and 4 of the Vogtle nuclear project by the November 2021 and November 2022 regulatory approved in-service dates. The utility also expects no change in the project’s total estimated costs.

Overall Sales Breakup

Southern Company’s wholesale power sales increased 3.2%. However, this was more than offset by a steep fall in retail electricity demand amid strategic sale of certain assets.

Consequently, there was a downward movement in overall electricity sales and usage. In fact, total electricity sales during the fourth quarter were down 6.8% from the same period last year.

Southern Company’s total retail sales decreased 9.8%, with residential and commercial sales going down by 13.9% and 8.3%, respectively. Moreover, industrial sales declined 7.2%.

Expenses Summary

The power supplier’s operations and maintenance cost edged up 2.4% to $1.7 billion, but the utility’s total operating expense for the period – at $4.2 billion – was down 11.2% from the prior-year level. The reduction was primarily on account of lower fuel and purchased power cost, as well as gain on asset sales.

Zacks Rank & Stock Picks

Southern Company – one of the largest generators of electricity in the nation along with the likes of Exelon Corporation EXC and Duke Energy Corporation DUK – currently retains a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

A better-ranked player in the utility space is Sempra Energy SRE, carrying a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

The 2020 Zacks Consensus Estimate for this San Diego, CA-based firm is $6.17, indicating 10.8% earnings per share growth over 2019. Next year’s average forecast is $7.10, pointing to another 15.1% growth.

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