News Column

Ameren's first quarter earnings sizzle

May 9, 2014

By Tony Reid, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.

May 09--ST. LOUIS -- Ameren Corp. turned in sizzling first quarter results on Thursday that saw its net income surge 80 percent and prompted it to predict higher revenues for the rest of the year.

The St. Louis-based parent of the Ameren Illinois utility said first quarter net income was $97 million or a hefty 40 cents per share. That compared with first quarter 2013 numbers of $54 million or 22 cents per share.

Ameren Illinois was a big part of the success story as the utility posted first quarter 2014 earnings of $53 million, up some 70 percent from the 2013 first quarter earnings of $31 million.

Talking with industry analysts, Ameren Corp revised its full year earnings estimate to a range of $2.30 to $2.50 per share, up from the previous prediction of $2.25 to $2.45 per share.

The glowing 2014 first quarter numbers beat Wall Street estimates by 9 cents a share and Ameren said it had gotten a big boost from soaring electric and gas demand during the savagely cold winter months.

Warner Baxter, Ameren Corp's president and CEO, said earnings from a massive program of investments to update and strengthen the electricity grid were also paying off, combined with careful cost controls.

"Our strong first quarter results reflected unusually cold winter temperatures, earnings on infrastructure investments made to meet our customers' energy needs... and disciplined cost management," Baxter added.

"We continue to execute on a key component of our strategy -- investing in and operating our utilities in a manner consistent with existing regulatory frameworks. This was a key driver of our strong first quarter earnings results."

Ameren Illinois was successful in lobbying for a change in the framework governing the way its delivery fees and investment returns are calculated in Illinois, resulting in a streamlined system with a faster payback on rate hikes for the utility. It's already filed a new rate increase request with state regulators that would be worth more than $206 million if it's implemented in full in January.

In return, the utility is required by law to sink a huge investment in updating and strengthening the Illinois power grid. Company critics, however, charge that Ameren Illinois is not moving fast enough to get the work done. They are anxious to see the arrival of new "smart grid" programs that will enable consumers to better manage energy use and save money.

"It's supposed to be a two-way street, where consumers deserve the benefits, not just the bill," said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board public watchdog organization. "Ameren is moving slower then we would like to see."

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Source: Herald & Review (Decatur, IL)

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