Utilities are supposed to be boring, moderately profitable investments. But Great Plains Energy's
The company turned in solid-looking earnings per share, but there was a wide discrepancy in reporting between its net and "core" earnings. The latter figure excludes mark-to-market gains on electricity. I wouldn't be worried about an Enron-style shell game here -- the contracts that Great Plains' subsidiaries sign are relatively short-term and easily priced. Also, cash flows consistently exceed booked profits. Nevertheless, GAAP earnings showed a profit, while core earnings ran at a loss.
A bevy of operational issues hit the company's regulated utility subsidiary, KCP&L, this quarter. Management even likened the confluence of challenges to a perfect storm, though some Fools would object to that breezy characterization. In true Goldilocks fashion, management deemed February too cold, and March too hot. The former conditions took facilities offline in a period of peak demand, and the latter reduced the number of heating days. Overall, weak wholesale results offset decent retail results, which were up 2% after adjusting for weather.
Strategic Energy, the company's merchant power subsidiary, arguably had it even worse, suffering from bad debt expense and attrition among small-business customers. It appears the company was too quick to take these customers on board last year, and it's only now applying tighter credit screens. Whoops!
Aside from these missteps, Great Plains faces a looming shareholder vote on the proposed Aquila acquisition. At Aquila's annual meeting yesterday, one disgruntled shareholder told management, "You're selling us down the river." Activist hedge fund Pirate Capital continues to oppose the deal, and has both sued Aquila and urged other shareholders to oppose the reelection of Aquila board members. Nevertheless, the board members kept their seats, which doesn't bode particularly well for the dissidents.
Great Plains investors don't have it so bad. The company pays out a fat 5.1% dividend yield, putting it ahead of other midcap utilities such as Westar
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Fool contributor Toby Shute prefers capers-and-goat cheese omelettes to porridge. He doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. Great Plains Energy is an Income Investor selection. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.