FirstEnergy Corp. Earnings: Can a Dying Dividend Deliver Growth?

Source: FirstEnergy Corp. 

FirstEnergy Corp. (NYSE: FE  ) reported earnings Tuesday, giving income investors a good long look at why their dividends just got slashed 35%. With similar dividend haircuts from Atlantic Power Corporation (NYSE: AT  ) and Exelon Corporation  (NYSE: EXC  ) , can you count on FirstEnergy Corp. to ride the road to recovery? Here's what you need to know.

The numbers
For Q4 2013, FirstEnergy Corp. sent some mixed messages. On the top line, FirstEnergy Corp. didn't live up to expectations. The utility reported fourth-quarter revenue of $3.64 billion, well below analyst estimates of $4.28 billion. 

The utility did, however, manage to make more from less. On the bottom line, FirstEnergy Corp.'s adjusted earnings per shares (EPS) came in at $0.75, a full $0.06 above estimates.

Looking back across the full fiscal 2013, President and CEO Anthony Alexander noted that his company's adjusted EPS of $3.04 was at the upper end of guidance, which he considers "solid results." 

Not so fast
While Alexander can pat himself on the back for hitting estimates for 2013, FirstEnergy Corp. has a long uphill battle ahead of it. The company has hit hard financial times in the past few years as it suffered from lower power prices and an outdated generation system. To remedy this, Alexander notes that he took "a series of decisive decisions [...] to strengthen our financial position and reposition the company." 

For income investors, those smooth words are a stark reminder of many shareholders' worse nightmare. FirstEnergy Corp. has ventured where few utilities dare go, cutting its Q1 dividend by 35% to help balance its books.

Dividend cuts can mean good or bad news for investors. When Atlantic Power Corporation sliced its dividend by 66% last year, shareholders ran for the door. Atlantic Power Corp. stock lost 30% in one week. And since the drop, Atlantic Power Corporation shares have shaved off another 20% as investors remain unimpressed with the company's books, new initiatives, and the utility sector in general.

Exelon Corporation also took a dividend haircut at the same time, but investors gave CEO Chris Cane the thumbs-up for his decision. As a nuclear-centric utility facing tough competition from natural gas amid falling power prices, Exelon Corporation needed to keep that cash for itself. Investors initially rewarded Exelon Corporation stock for the book-balancing, but enthusiasm has worn off in recent months to put shares at similar levels to the start of 2013. For Exelon Corporation, shareholders remain worried about continued competition from relatively cheap natural gas, among other things. 

AT Chart

AT data by YCharts.

FirstEnergy's future
FirstEnergy Corp. isn't just padding its pockets with those diminished distributions. In his report, Alexander went on to note that FirstEnergy will "focus on more predictable and stable growth initiatives in our regulated businesses." 

The utility plans to invest $4.2 billion into its transmission business over the next four years, in an attempt to snag "toll booth" revenue that is some of the steadiest and most lucrative money in the energy sector. But with 56% of its electricity generation still coming from coal, the company's fortune is continually tied to this fuel's fate. 

FirstEnergy Corp's estimated range for fiscal 2014 doesn't touch its 2013 earnings and is even further behind 2012. The company is setting its sights low at just $2.45 to $2.85 per share, but investors need to look beyond next year. At current valuations, FirstEnergy's risky situation and unproven model don't add up. There are better stocks out there offering exceptional dividends -- something FirstEnergy can't promise at the moment.

Diversify your dividends
The energy sector ain't what it used to be, and stalwart utilities like FirstEnergy Corp., Exelon Corporation, and Atlantic Power Corp. simply can't be counted on for steady dividends. To diversify your own dividend portfolio, our top analysts put together a free list of nine high-yielding stocks that should be in every income investor's portfolio. To learn the identity of these stocks instantly and for free, all you have to do is click here now.


Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 2:57 PM, Jec3 wrote:

    Unproven model?!?

    This company and it's forbears have been around longer than you've been alive. I'd say the "model" has done pretty well over the years. Shifting the model from coal to natural gas, an inevitable evolution in electric generation, can't happen in one business cycle, but it will happen eventually, and when it does, the value of this company will increase. Provided, of course, that oil production is still legal. But before that happens, the brawl between natural gas sources like oil producers, transporters, and frackers vs their detractors will have to play out, and I think that by then a newer brawl will have emerged between natural gas producers vs non-polluting solar. In the meantime, and as long as government allows it, using coal is no more troublesome than natural gas, and is certainly not an untested, unproven model.

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2856520, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 12/22/2014 10:05:29 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement