Exelon Corporation (NYSE:EXC) reported quarterly earnings yesterday, and the utility is making major moves. Although analysts’ earnings expectations were met, the company announced it will slash its 6.8% dividend next year by a whopping 40%. Is this the beginning of the end for this dividend stock, or a better strategy for long-term shareholder value? Let’s take a look at this quarter’s results, review some long-term trends, and see whether Exelon’s still got profits for your portfolio.
Exelon reported $6.44 billion in sales for Q4 2012, missing analyst expectations of $8.26 billion. Although it whiffed on its top line by 22%, the company squeaked by on net income. With $0.64 earnings per share, Mr. Market’s expectations were right on the money.
Comparing Exelon’s 2012 sales to previous years is tricky, since the company underwent a massive merger with Constellation Energy in March. However, operating EPS came in at $2.85 for 2012, 32% less than 2011’s $4.16.
Looking ahead, Exelon expects 2013 to continue the company’s downward trend, with EPS guidance in the $2.35-$2.65 range.
2012 in review
In the words of CEO and President Chris Cane: “2012 was a difficult year on the economic front for our sector.” To maintain its dividend, the utility cut $2.3 billion of growth investment plans, including nuclear upgrades and other investment targets.
Despite tight finances, the company managed to dole out its $2.10 annual dividend while completing its merger and reinvesting $5.9 billion in capital expenditures. A significant portion of its spending went toward renewables, with 400 MW wind and 330 MW solar added in 2012. Looking ahead, the company will continue clean energy investments (mainly solar), with additional focus on smart grid technology.
But capital expenditures got their name for a reason – they use capital. In an effort to find financial stability, Exelon announced that, starting in Q2 2013, it would cut its dividend by 40% to $0.31 per share.
Speaking to shareholders, Cane explained:
We believe that our dividend should be sized to reflect our business model and keep our balance sheet strong. We also think that the dividend might be sized to allow us capacity and flexibility to pursue growth that will enhance the company’s long-term value. While we remain confident that there is $3 to $6 of megawatt hour of fundamental upside in the market, it is increasingly clear that we will not see the upside as soon as we had expected.