Dominion Resources (NYSE:D) posted GAAP earnings of $0.90 cents a share in the third quarter, missing Wall Street expectations on both the bottom and top line. That's part of the quarter's story, but it's not the most exciting piece. Which is probably why the stock price was little changed at the start of trading following the earnings release.
A mild summer
The diversified utility's top line came in at $3.05 billion, short of the $3.33 billion consensus estimate. GAAP earnings were $0.90 cents, six cents off of Wall Street's expectations. Using the company's estimate of operating earnings, which adds back certain items, would have brought earnings up to $0.93 a share, still shy of expectations.
The big culprit was the weather. Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell described the period by saying, "Our service territory experienced one of the mildest summers in the last 30 years." He estimates that the mild summer took as much as $0.08 off of earnings. That's how it goes in the utility business: extreme weather cuts both ways. And Dominion is certainly not the only utility to complain about how nice a summer we had overall in the United States.
Looking past the EPS
That said, the third quarter at Dominion Resources was about so much more than earnings. For example, Dominion's Cove Point liquefied natural gas (LNG) export port got approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to move forward. Dominion hasn't wasted any time, announcing on Oct. 30 that it's commenced construction on a key piece of the project. Farrell called it an "historic" event for the company and the nation. That may be hyperbole, but it is certainly more important news than a slight earnings miss because of a mild summer.
Another important event surrounding the Cove Point LNG terminal was the initial public offering of Dominion Midstream Partners LP (NYSE:DM) in mid-October. Dominion sold a roughly 30% interest in the newly formed partnership to the public, retaining about 70%. Dominion Midstream Partners' main asset: Cove Point. This is a notable transaction because it allows Dominion Resources to raise money while retaining control of what will be one of the first U.S. LNG export facilities.
The LP also has long-term implications. Dominion Resources has notable natural gas infrastructure assets, most of which would fit well in a limited partnership. Dominion Midstream Partners, then, will allow Dominion Resources to sell, or drop down in industry lingo, additional assets to monetize more of what it owns while. Again, effectively retaining control of the assets. In the end, if the mild summer got you down at Dominion Resources, Cove Point and the LP IPO should materially boost your spirits.
But wait, there's more!
Cove Point, however, isn't the only exciting project that Dominion Resources has going. It also teamed up with Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK), Piedmont Natural Gas (NYSE:PNY), and AGL Resources (UNKNOWN:GAS.DL) to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a $5 billion, 550-mile natural gas pipeline. The pipeline will provide direct access to the Marcellus and Utica shale basins of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, delivering natural gas to Virginia and North Carolina.
Dominion will own 45% of the project, Duke 40%, Piedmont 10%, and AGL 5%. Dominion will run the project and has already started the surveying process. Each of the four partners are expected to sign 20-year supply agreements, ensuring that there's plenty of demand for the gas that will be shipped. Although politics and environmentalists often get in the way of pipeline construction, gas demand won't be an issue for this much needed project.
Further along are construction projects like the Warren County Power Station, which is nearly done, and the Brunswick County Power Station, about 35% percent complete. Seven solar projects expected to be up and running later this year are also progressing nicely. Dominion's efforts to build for the future are going well.
Not an earnings issue
The third quarter wasn't really an earnings driven period for Dominion Resources. That will probably be true of the entire year, too. The important news was, and will continue to be for at least a little longer, on the corporate front, where construction plans and corporate actions are setting Dominion up for long-term success. The third quarter was an earnings miss, but don't let that distract you from what's really taking place at this utility.