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Atmos Energy (ATO -0.16%)
Q2 2022 Earnings Call
May 05, 2022, 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Operator

Greetings, and welcome to the Atmos Energy second quarter earnings conference call. At this time, all participants are in a listen only mode. A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation. [Operator instructions] Please note that this conference is being recorded.

I will now turn the conference over to our host, Dan Meziere, vice president of Investor Relations and treasurer. Thank you. You may begin.

Dan Meziere -- Vice President of Investor Relations and Treasurer

Thank you, Diego. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining our fiscal 2022 second quarter earnings call. With me today are Kevin Akers, president and chief executive officer; and Chris Forsythe, senior vice president and chief financial officer. Our earnings release and conference call slide presentation, which we will reference in our prepared remarks, are available at atmosenergy.com under the Investor Relations tab.

As we review these financial results and discuss future expectations, please keep in mind that some of our discussion might contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Securities Act and the Securities Exchange Act. Our forward-looking statements and projections could differ materially from actual results. The factors that could cause such material differences are outlined on Slide 33 and are more fully described in our SEC filings. With that, I will turn the call over to Chris Forsythe, our senior VP and CFO.

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Chris?

Chris Forsythe -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Dan, and good morning, everyone. We appreciate you joining us and your interest in Atmos Energy. Last night, we reported fiscal '22 second quarter net income of $325 million, or $2.37 per diluted share compared to $297 million, or $2.30 per diluted share in the prior year quarter. Year-to-date, earnings were $574 million or $4.24 per diluted share, compared with earnings of $540 million, or $4.01 per diluted share in the prior year period.

Consolidated operating income decreased to $661 million for the six months ended March 31st. As a reminder, beginning in the second quarter of fiscal '21 including end of last fiscal year, we've reached agreement with regulators in various states to begin refunding excess deferred tax liabilities, generally over a 3 to 5 year period. These refunds reduced revenues throughout the fiscal year when those revenues are billed. The corresponding reduction in our -- interim annual effective income tax rate was recognized in the prior year when those agreements were completed.

In fiscal '22, the corresponding reduction in the effective tax rate was recognized at the beginning of the fiscal year. Therefore, 3/3 changes in revenues and income tax expense may not offset within in periods. However, they will substantially offset by the end of the fiscal year. Excluding the impact of these refunds, operating income for the six months ended March 31st increased $62 million, or 9% to $743 million.

Slides 4 and 5 summarize the key performance drivers for each of our operating segments, the three and six months ended March 31st. I will focus on some of the key drivers underlying a year-to-date performance. Rate increases in both of our operating segments, driven by increased safety reliability capital spending, totaled $120 million, with approximately 77% coming from our distribution segment. Continued robust customer growth in our distribution segment, increased operating income by an additional $11 million.

These increases were partially offset by $70 Million decrease in consumption. Most of this decrease occurred in the second quarter, where we observed that residential consumption on a per heating degree day basis was approximately 6% lower than the prior year quarter. We attribute this decrease primarily to customer conservation in response to the current inflationary environment, including the increased cost of natural gas included in customer bills. As a reminder, our weather normalization mechanism substantially offset changes in weather as measured -- on a heating degree day basis.

However, they do not adjust for changes in customer behavior. Additionally, we experience a $27 million increase in consolidated O&M expense. $20 million of this increase occurred during the first fiscal quarter as we performed more pipeline based activities in this year's first fiscal quarter compared to prior year. Consolidated capital spending increased 41%, or $344 million to $1.2 billion, that's 87% dedicated to improving the safety reliability of our system while reducing methane emissions.

This increase primarily reflects increased system modernization, system integrity, and system expansion spending to meet the growing natural gas demand in our service territories. Remain on track to spend $2.4 billion to $2.5 billion in capital expenditures this fiscal year. We are also on track with our regulatory filings. Today, we have completed $74 million in annualized regulatory outcomes, excluding refunds of excess deferred tax liabilities.

And we currently have about $270 million in progress. Slides 20 to 32 summarize those outcomes, and Slide 17 outlines are planned balance remainder of the fiscal year. During the second quarter, we completed our plan financing activities for fiscal '22. In January, we issued $200 million in long-term debt through a tap of our existing ten year 2.65% notes due September 2029.

The net proceeds were used to pay off our [Inaudible] term loan that was scheduled to mature in April. Additionally, we fully priced remaining equity needs for fiscal '22 and the significant portion of our fiscal '23 equity needs. During the second quarter, we executed forward sales agreements and or ATM program for approximately $4.7 million shares for $500 million. And we sold forward agreements on $3.5 million shares for approximately -- $320 million in net proceeds.

As of March 31st, we have approximately $450 million in net proceeds available under existing forward sales agreements. Our second quarter activities exhausted our $1 billion ATM program we established in June of 2021, and we establish a new $1 billion ATM program at the end of March. We finished the second quarter with an equity capitalization ratio of 61%, excluding the $2.2 billion of -- winter storm financing and total liquidity of approximately $3.5 billion. Additional details for financing activities, including our equity forward arrangements, as well as our financial profile, can be found on Slide 8 to 11.

During the second quarter, we continued to make progress in securitization. In March, the Kansas Corporation Commission approved the gas and other related costs incurred during winter storm Uri with no disallowances. We'll plan to file our application for a financing order during our third fiscal quarter. And in Texas, the Texas Public Financing Authority continues its work on the Statewide Securitization Program, and we still anticipate the securitization transaction will be completed by the end of our fiscal year.

I'll close my portion of our prepared remarks with a few comments on our fiscal '22 earnings per share guidance, which we tightened to a range of $5.50 to $5.60 per diluted share. Earnings for the first half of the fiscal year were in line with our expectations, with approximately 70% of our distribution revenues earned for the fiscal year, and the fact we're heading into the summer months, we believe any potential change in customer behavior in the second half of the fiscal year will not have a material impact on revenue. Additionally, customer growth, the first six months of fiscal year was stronger than we had planned and we expect that trend to continue into the second half the fiscal year. In our pipeline storage segment, our straight fixed variable rate design for substantially all of the segments revenues strikes clarity into the second half of the fiscal year.

Additionally, we are seeing spreads widen, which is expected to provide a modest increase in APTs through system revenue. Finally, we have completed our fiscal '22 financial -- financing program, including pricing all of our equity needs for the remainder of the fiscal year, which removes one more variable. Slides 13 to 14 provide additional details around our guidance. Thank you for your time today.

I will now turn the call over to Kevin Akers for his update and some closing remarks. Kevin?

Kevin Akers -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Chris, and good morning, everyone. As you heard, the first six months of the fiscal year were in line with our expectations, which leaves us well-positioned for another successful fiscal year. This performance reflects a commitment, dedication, focus, and effort of all 4,700 Atmos Energy employees. As we continue to successfully modernize our natural gas distribution, transmission, and storage systems while safely providing reliable natural gas service to our 3.4 million customers across 1,400 communities in eight states.

During the first half of the fiscal year, we continue to experience strong customer growth. As you just heard from Chris. For example, for the 12 months ended March 31, 2022, we added over 57,000 new customers, which represents a 1.8% increase. We added nearly 1,800 commercial customers during the first six months of this fiscal year, and we added 15 new industrial customers that we anticipate using nearly five Bcf of natural gas annually, when at full capacity.

On a volumetric basis, that five Bcf of annual industrial customer usage is equivalent to adding nearly 85,000 residential customers to our system. We're very proud of our efforts for these new customers coming on our system. As Chris mentioned, our capital spending has increased about 344 million over the prior year period, and we remain on track to achieve our capital spending target of $2.4 billion to $2.5 billion. Through our system modernization efforts, we're on track to replace 800 to 1,000 miles of pipe and 20,000 to 30,000 steel service lines.

All of which supports our [Audio gap] reducing methane emissions, 50% by 2035 from 2017 levels for EPA reported distribution mainly services. That also includes APTs integrity work on projects like our line X Phase 2 replacement, which is under construction and includes 63 miles of 36-inch pipeline anticipated to be completed later this calendar year. As a reminder, we placed Phase 1 into service in Q1 of this fiscal year. That phase replaced 64 miles of 36-inch pipeline.

Additionally, construction has begun on Phase 2 of our line S2 replacement project. This 18-mile, 36-inch project is expected to be completed late this calendar year. Again, as a reminder, we place the 22 miles of 36 inches completed in Phase 1 into service in Q1 of this fiscal year. This modernization work is a significant component of our comprehensive environmental strategy, it focuses on reducing our scope one, two and three emissions and environmental impact from operations in the five key areas of operations, fleet facilities, gas supply, and customers.

During the second quarter, we added another RNG facility that will provide renewable natural gas for transportation across our system. That facility has the potential to flow up to a half a Bcf a year. As you know, we are currently transporting approximately eight Bcf a year, and we are evaluating nearly 30 opportunities that could further expand these transportation opportunities. As I mentioned on previous calls, we completed our first zero net energy home in partnership with the Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity in Evans, Colorado.

Zero net energy homes use high efficiency, natural gas appliances, rooftop solar panels and insulation to produce more energy than it consumes at a very affordable cost. Approximately $50 per month for the combined gas and electric bill for the Evans, Colorado, home. We are now partnering with local Habitat for Humanity organizations in each of our eight states to construct additional zero net energy homes. Currently, our home in Dallas is under construction and on April 27th, we have the dedication for our zero net energy home in Tyler, Texas.

Additionally, in Jackson, Mississippi, on April 28th, Atmos Energy and Habitat for Humanity Capital Area held a groundbreaking ceremony for Mississippi's first zero net energy home. And in Lubbock, three homes are scheduled to begin construction in early September of this year. These zero net energy homes demonstrate the value and vital role natural gas plays in helping customers reduce their carbon footprint in an affordable manner. Providing these families with a natural gas home that is environmentally friendly and cost efficient is just one way Atmos Energy feels safe and thriving communities.

Our Customer Support Organization and technology support team continue to innovate and look for ways to improve our customer service, and offer convenient channels for our customers to communicate with us as well as to make payments. For example, over 31% of our customers are enrolled in recurring auto draft, which is about 8% higher than industry average. We also see continuous growth in our electronic bill delivery channels, with nearly 50% of our customers enrolled in e-bill. We continue our outreach to customers to make them aware of our flexible payment plans, as well as provide contact information for local, state, and Federal Energy Assistance programs.

For the first six months of this fiscal year, our customers forward associates, our energy assistance specialist and coordinator through our customer advocacy team helped nearly 44,000 customers receive $15 million in energy assistance. It is through heartfelt caring efforts like that and exceptional customer service, that provide the satisfaction ratings for these employees that exceed 97%. These activities and initiatives reflect how we are focused on the long-term sustainability of Atmos Energy as we serve a very vital role in every community by delivering reliable, efficient, and abundant natural gas to homes, businesses, and industries to fill our energy needs now and into the future. We believe our focus on long-term sustainability, combined with executing our proven investment, regulatory and financial strategies, continues to support our ability to grow earnings per share and dividends 6% to 8% annually through fiscal 2026.

We appreciate your time and interest in Atmos Energy this morning. And we'll now open the call for questions.

Questions & Answers:


Operator

Thank you. And at this time will conduct our question-and-answer session. [Operator instructions] Our first question comes from Nicholas Campanella with Credit Suisse. Please state your question.

Nick Campanella -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Hey, everyone. Good morning and thanks for taking the question. -- Hey. A lot of detail.

Thanks, thanks for the update. Just on the financing side of things, your cost of equity has improved since the start of your fiscal year, and I know you're largely set on '22 equity needs now. And you gave us a lot of detail around the forward program, but just any thoughts on why not do more now and take this off the table for future years? And is it just that you guys are being just fairly formulaic and -- how you execute here? Just any thoughts on out your equity? Thank you.

Chris Forsythe -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. A couple of things there, Nick. First, we are under our ATM program for a number of quarter and have been executing forward arrangements. So, we may very well take advantage of the current pricing environment to establish pricing for our fiscal '23 and beyond.

As I indicated, fiscal '22 is fully priced for the remainder of our fiscal year. So that's an opportunity that we'll take a look at here in the third and the fourth quarter to take advantage of the pricing, the current pricing environment to build on what we've already established with our fiscal '23 work that we we actually through the end of March.

Nick Campanella -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

All right. Great. That's helpful. And then I guess just broader question on inflation.

Everyone's dealing with it. Just on the gas side, I just,-- every day we look at the strip, it's up and how is that translating to broader customer bills? Do you feel comfortable if we remain at these levels? And if we're at a structurally higher commodity environment, through your five year plan, just confidence level in executing on this rate base trajectory.

Kevin Akers -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, Nick. It's Kevin. And there's a couple of things in that in your question there. Let me first start with, as you heard in my opening comments there, our team has and continues to stay very attuned to and keep affordability at the top of the mind and focused on how we can help.

You heard the things that our customer service organization, our customer advocacy team are doing with outreach to energy assistance organizations, trying to find funds, get customers connected to that. Find ways, we can communicate proactively with customers. For example, during the last last winter period, we sent out, I think about 1.4 million notices, whether those were phone calls, whether those were text, whether those were emails, those sort of things, trying to alert customers to pending colder than normal situations moving into their area. We're also sending them through those various channels, including social media as well, information on weather tips, energy efficiency, conservation, gas cost pricing, all those sort of things.

So we're trying to stay very active with our customers, very up-to-date with our customers on the calls, but also find ways where we can help through our energy assistance LIHEAP programs, point them to the locations where they can receive assistance. But also, as you know, we're very efficient operator. We work very hard at that. You see the things we've done over the last couple of years to Uri, those sort of things.

We'll continue those efforts as we monitor the gas price over the next few months, and we'll continue to communicate with the customers where we can. And to the second part of your question there, I think where you were heading regarding our capital investment program over the five year horizon. I guess, you can see in our slide deck right now, we we run somewhere between 85% to 90% of our in-capital investments focused on safety and reliability. That needs to continue and will continue -- as we continue our strategy to modernize our system for safe delivery of natural gas, as well as, as you just heard me mention, that growth out there to support that high growth rate, particularly when we're adding 12 months ending March, 57,000 new customers out there and -- 15 new industrials.

So we've got to continue to meet that growing positive and strong demand for natural gas across our service territory that we anticipate will continue going forward as we talk to your builders and developers out there, even with interest rates at 5% right now, they're continue to see strong demand as well. So, that's what we're going to focus on, how we help the customer, how we can connect customers to the right assistance organizations, maintain our focus on and where we can, and then continue to invest in our system.

Nick Campanella -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Hey. Thanks a lot for that, all. Well, we'll see you at Asia. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Insoo Kim with Goldman Sachs. Please state your question.

Insoo Kim -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Thank you. First, just more on detail for the quarter. I saw on the pipeline side, the OEM year-over-year was up a decent bit on the distribution side down year-over-year. Is this just more timing between the quarters? And I know from a guidance perspective for the year, it doesn't seem like much has changed.

But I'm just curious on some clarity there.

Chris Forsythe -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Hey. This is Chris. Certainly. It's timing on some of these -- just the timing to work on the pipeline, those are our longer, longer lead time projects that need to be planned further out in advance.

So just in timing around that. And on the distribution side is down a little bit. We had a slightly lower bad debt expense in our current year's fiscal second quarter compared to the prior year. So that's -- those are really the two key drivers for those variances that you described.

Insoo Kim -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

OK. Got it. Second question, just more curious on your observations. We've talked and probably over the past couple of years, just about -- the different changing narratives on the future of gas.

And it seems like the latest narrative has changed, maybe more to positive for the sector, just on energy security and all that stuff. Have you seen that play out at all on the ground, whether it's customer growth or just demand for gas and your various restrictions? If there was ever really an impact from this narrative on the negative side over the past couple of years just seeing. I know you had mentioned customer growth or demand been stronger than expected. So didn't know if that was tied to any of that in your thoughts?

Kevin Akers -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Thank you, Insoo for your question. And as you know, we've continued to have strong growth. We're very proud of our service territories.

We believe they are the best in the country. We're fortunate with the states and support politically, the economic development chambers and their hard work that bring these customers into the communities we serve today. But we've seen strong support for natural gas for a long time throughout our history. And I think, you can also see that through the customer advocacy, customer choice bills that we have in six or eight states out there, we get very good support from the regulatory perspective, the political perspective, the community perspective.

So I think we've always been and strong supporting natural gas environments. I think the thing that, to get to the crux of your question, that's probably changed here lately is the conversation that the general public is now seeing and wanting to feel around energy security. Natural gas in our industry has always been there behind the scenes delivering, transporting, storing natural gas to meet those winter demand, especially as you go back to [Inaudible] and and how well some of our distribution transmission systems performed during that piece of it. We've always been out of sight, out of mind.

But with the unfortunate geopolitics are going on now, the war in Ukraine, energy's been thrust to the forefront. And I think those are things we're hearing as people are wanting to know that natural gas is going to be there. It's a viable choice for them. It's abundant.

And they're talking to us about national energy security and how they can have that in their community. So those are the sort of things we're hearing now. And as I said, we're very fortunate and blessed and appreciative of our jurisdictions and their support for natural gas.

Insoo Kim -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

That makes a lot of sense, especially given the territory you're in. Thank you for that color.

Operator

Thank you. [Operator instructions] Our next question comes from Julien Dumoulin-Smith with Bank of America. Please state your question.

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Hey. Good morning, team. Thanks for the opportunity. Maybe just stay with this inflationary focus.

What's your view on inflation's impact on your capex budgets? How are you thinking about that just vis a vis some of the latest pressures we've seen across the industry? What percentage of your capex is exposed to material labor, for instance? Obviously, that are perhaps disproportionately inflationary and what locked in contracted labor we're perhaps you may not see that, but on balance, is there an upward bias in your capex budget on that alone effectively?

Kevin Akers -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Julien, let me start, and Chris certainly can add some color if he wants to get into percentages or not. But as we've talked about this before, I couldn't be any prouder of our procurement team, our operations team, our engineering teams, all working collectively as we were coming -- through the last year or so, the pandemic and inflationary discussions were picking up, we were seeing some of the signs out there. They were very active.

You heard us talk about going from a three month to six month inventory of materials and pipes. You've also heard us continue to talk about, that we have 95% to 100% of our pipe on the ground for the remainder of this fiscal years steel needs, and that we are already beginning identification and getting steel pipe to the mills for '23 and it had been fine cost as far out as '24 and those project needs. So all to say for us, our team has been very proactive about identifying the types of materials, whether it's pipe valves, fittings, those sort of things, plastic, steel. Increasing our inventory, increasing our lead time on that.

So we're not just in time. And yes, we've seen some increases in pipe -- steel pipe, especially from a couple of years ago or three years ago. But we think we're doing everything we can to take advantage of current pricing now to lock that in. And as I said, as we buy out into the future for those sort of things, really, the only pressures we've seen right now from a supply chain perspective, we've seen a little bit on the technology side and occasionally on some matters.

But it corrects itself over time as our team continues to work through our vendors and suppliers to get additional supplies into our warehouses. So I hope that helps answer your question. Chris, anything additional you'd like to add?

Chris Forsythe -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. I think the same. And just really to add into that, the other point, Julien, the other point make is that our contract labors that their executing on the capital projects. We've got contracts with them.

We're currently -- we're in constant communication with them. Many of these contractors go back many, many years with us. So -- over the years, we have worked with them to manage their cost pressures and needs. And so, we've been able to do this at a -- in a bite size [Inaudible] will, rather than having to, holding costs really low for a long period of time and having to rush now to catch up to market.

So there's -- those are long-term relationships that those contractors have. It's given us the ability to bleed in any higher cost over an extended period of time so as to mute the inflationary pressure our capital spending.

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Got it. But not ready to quantify in aggregate, but maybe you do see some of these inflationary pressures that could follow through? And maybe to clarify that further, even to the extent to what you do, would you perhaps defer some of these investments in order to keep your budget flat? Or is there an argument that would just be made you move forward with the projects despite the modest inflation?

Kevin Akers -- President and Chief Executive Officer

We haven't seen anything right now, Julien, that hadn't already been contemplated in the numbers that we've discussed here today.

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

All right. Excellent. So just one other -- Oh, please go for it.

Kevin Akers -- President and Chief Executive Officer

No, that's all I had.

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

OK. Excellent. And then just on the transportation and RNG front, you made some comments here. You talked about 30 projects here.

Seems like, or 30 opportunities sees your verbiage. Can you expand a little bit more about what that -- could amount to just from a capital opportunity perspective, if you will?

Kevin Akers -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Julien, as you heard to say before, we're not in the upstream side of that. We're not --

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Totally.

Kevin Akers -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Right. Capital upstream of the matter right now. So truly, all of our investment would be the sales matter. These, whether they're digesters, they're landfills, biomass, sewer gas, capture, those sort of things.

We're really receiving the process gas and transporting on behalf of our customers. And right now, those evaluations are truly what is near system, what is close to the system. So -- any capital investment at this time would be modest and it would be -- maybe extend a short, short distance to a facility. But really, we're not investing upstream at this point.

We're really transporting that RNG on behalf of other.

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Got it. Lots of projects lingering there, but largely, a sales element.

Kevin Akers -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Correct. Helping our customers where we can, reduce their carbon footprint, and -- be the conduit that's why we have the 72,000 miles of pipeline system we have today is to move that gas around it, and be part of that environmental equation to get that gas to the burner too.

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Excellent. Guys, thank you so much.

Kevin Akers -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Operator

Thank you. And there are no further questions at this time. I'll turn the floor back to Dan Meziere for closing remarks.

Dan Meziere -- Vice President of Investor Relations and Treasurer

We appreciate your interest in Atmos Energy, and thank you all for joining us. A recording of this call is available for replay on our website through June 30th. Have a good day.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 32 minutes

Call participants:

Dan Meziere -- Vice President of Investor Relations and Treasurer

Chris Forsythe -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Kevin Akers -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Nick Campanella -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Insoo Kim -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Julien Dumoulin-Smith -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

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