Dominion Resources (NYSE:D) isn't the typical sleepy utility. That was evident by the company's recent third-quarter results where it generated strong earnings growth, with operating earnings up by 10.8% per share year over year. That growth appears poised to continue, which was clear from management's comments on its most recent conference call. Here are five things the company wants investors to know about its growth.
1. Our major growth projects are on time and on budget
CEO Thomas Farrell spent a lot of time on the call running though the company's major growth projects. There was one overriding theme running through his comments, which is that each project "continues to be on time and on budget." It's a phrase he repeated several times. That's really a noteworthy accomplishment because the industry has been plagued by delays and cost overruns in the past, causing its peers to miss growth targets and disappoint investors.
2. We benefit from low natural gas prices
One of the reasons why Dominion isn't a typical utility is due to the fact that it has an oil and gas midstream subsidiary that's fueling a lot of growth. However, there is some concern in the marketplace that this growth could come under pressure due to weak natural gas prices. However, Farrell noted:
I want to highlight the significant difference of Dominion's infrastructure growth projects from those of others. With the exception of a couple of smaller producer outlet projects that are well under way to completion, all of Dominion's major expansion projects are secure with firm commitments from consumers of natural gas, not the producers. These demand-driven projects ... are with sound counterparties that are meeting customer demand or fueling electric power production.
This is really important because natural gas producers could be forced to significantly slow supply growth, which would impact pipelines being built to capture those supplies. However, what Farrell notes is the fact that Dominion's pipelines are focused on supplying gas to meet growing demand, which is actually fueled by lower prices.
3. Mergers aren't how it plans to fuel growth
There has been a lot of talk in the energy sector about the need for smaller energy companies to merge in order to boost scale and reduce costs. However, Dominion doesn't see large-scale M&A driving growth at its MLP Dominion Midstream Partners (NYSE:DM). Thomas made that clear by saying:
I think we've been fairly consistent for quite a long time ... we don't talk about M&A at all ... we have said since we created Dominion Midstream Partners that we would be looking for assets to contribute to the MLP and we are. But like I said, we have anything that we look at that we're going to judge against our own projects and what issuing LP units, how we've prepared through just organically growing.
In other words, the company plans to grow Dominion Midstream Partners organically through dropping down assets or making direct asset acquisitions, rather than through a transformational deal to acquire another MLP.
4. It's transitioning how it plans to grow solar
Renewables remain an important growth driver for Dominion. However, it is changing the way that it pursues this growth. Farrell noted:
Our solar strategy is transitioning from the merchant business to our regulated business in Virginia, where we plan to invest $700 million this decade to construct 400 megawatts of utility-scale projects in this space.
It plans to be much more selective when it comes to buying and building solar plants with the purpose of selling that power commercially. Instead, the company is transitioning its model to build solar power generation facilities directly within its electric utility in Virginia. It's a move that will "support our future needs in terms of our carbon compliance," according to Farrell.
5. The dividend growth rate is on track
All of Dominion's growth projects are designed to do one thing: grow the company's earnings so it can grow its dividend. That's something that a lot of energy-related companies have had trouble doing this year with a lot of dividends suffering cuts. However, that's not something that will happen at Dominion; in fact, CFO Mark McGettrick said:
We see no reason to change our distribution growth rate [at Dominion Midstream Partners] which is 22%, which ... we think is best-in-class at the MLP and we stated in February that it's our anticipation, subject to board approval, to increase our dividend at Dominion about 8% a year through the balance of the decade.
In other words, investors in both of Dominion's entities should expect to enjoy robust income growth for the next few years.
The key takeaway from Dominion this quarter is the fact that its growth remains on track. Not only are its major projects on time and on budget, but many of its projects benefit from cheap energy prices, which mutes any concern that growth won't materialize as expected. Further, it sees no need for a big M&A deal and instead sees enough organic growth in its pipeline to give it the confidence to reiterate its robust dividend growth target for the balance of this decade.
Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Dominion Resources. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.