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WEC Energy Group's Earnings: Another Solid Quarter Despite Warm Weather

By Tyler Crowe - Feb 9, 2016 at 11:15AM

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With such a warm winter, WEC Energy Group's management could have just blamed it on the rain. Instead, it showed it can handle it.

If there's anything that concerns utility companies, it's when the weather does things out of the ordinary that can disrupt consumption. This past quarter was one of the warmest on record in the region that WEC Energy Group (WEC -0.17%) serves, yet the company was still able to meet expectations and crank out another solid earnings result. Let's take a quick look at what happened this quarter and what investors can expect in the year to come. 

WEC Energy Group's quarter: By the numbers 

ResultsQ4 2015Q4 2014% Change
Revenue (USD in millions) $1,848 $1,225 50%
Operating Income (USD in millions) $380.2 $243.5 56%
Earnings Per Share $0.57 $0.53 7.5%

Data source: WEC Energy Group earnings report.

The numbers for WEC look slightly off because the company completed the acquisition of Integrys back in the second quarter of 2015. The integration of the two companies is why we're seeing revenue and operating income jump 50%, but the share dilution that took place to complete the Integrys merger means that earnings per share aren't as robust. Here's how the company broke down the EPS changes from the merger.

ResultsQ4 2015
Wisconsin Energy Adjusted EPS $0.63
Acquisition Costs (Post-Tax) ($0.09)
Integrys Earnings $0.25
Impact of Additional Shares  ($0.22)
WEC Energy Group GAAP EPS  $0.57

Data source: WEC Energy Group earnings report.

What happened at WEC Energy Group this quarter
Average daily temperatures in the fourth quarter were 26% higher than the same quarter last year, which led to lower electricity and natural gas volumes.

  • Much of the weather-related declines in consumption were offset by the increased customer base. WEC's We Energies segment increased its electric and natural gas customer base by 6,500 and 8,500, respectively.
  • In 2015, residential electricity demand declined 2%, small commercial and industrial demand was flat, and non-iron ore mine consumption for large commercial and industrial customers was down by 0.4%.
  • WEC Energy Group expects to gain $1 billion in cash benefits from a recent Congressional ruling that gives bonus depreciation for any property that is brought online between 2015 to 2019. The benefits of the program will most likely be used for more investments to meet the Clean Power Plan.
  • On Jan. 21, the company's board approved a quarterly cash dividend of $0.495 a share.
  • CEO Gale Klappa announced he would be stepping down effective May 1, and will be replaced by Allen Leveret, who currently serves as the president of the Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan regions. Klappa will remain the company's chairman of the board.

What management had to say
I think that it's fair to say that this quarter's results were a bit of a victory lap for Klappa as his time as CEO winds down. Here's what he had to say about the company's performance for 2015:

Looking back over at the latest year, it was not only a transformational year for our company, but a year also of significant achievements. We Energies was named the most reliable utility in the Midwest for the fifth consecutive year, and in national studies, We Energies ranked in the top quartile in the Midwest again for customer service and power quality and in the top quartile nationally for customer service. In addition, Wisconsin Public Service in Green Bay was ranked #2 in the Midwest for overall customer satisfaction among midsized utilities. We also reached a milestone for employee safety at We Energies, recording the safest year in more than 115 years of operation. We invested nearly $780 million in our legacy core business, with all major projects on time and on budget. And of course, we closed our acquisition of Integrys to form WEC Energy Group, the leading electric and natural gas utility system in the Midwest, with now 4.4 million customers across the region. From a financial standpoint, we continued to deliver solid earnings growth. Through disciplined cost control and effective planning, we delivered record earnings in 2015 despite a very warm fourth quarter. 

Looking forward
Aside from the nice bonus from the accelerated depreciation news, this quarter's results were another par-for-the-course kind of quarter. Management expects the bonus depreciation legislation will allow the company to move some of its development plans forward. It recently announced that capital spending for 2016 will be $1.5 billion, which is on the high side of its previous guidance.

The company also expects earnings per share to be $2.88-$2.94 per share, a 6%-8% increase from 2015 results. It may be challenging as electricity and gas consumption have been down as of late, but the uptick in customers and increased reliability from its new investments should help offset those headwinds. 

Tyler Crowe has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him at Fool.com or on Twitter @TylerCroweFool.

The Motley Fool recommends WEC Energy Group. 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.

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