February 19, 2009 in Business

Rate hikes, cold season help Avista’s bottom line

From Staff Reports
 

Nosbaum to retire

 Itron Inc. on Wednesday announced company chief operating officer Malcolm Unsworth will succeed LeRoy Nosbaum as president and CEO on March 31.

 Nosbaum, who joined Itron in 1996 and helped make it the dominating company in the utility-metering industry, will remain the board’s executive chairman until the end of the year, when he’ll retire.

Avista Corp.’s earnings rebounded in 2008, with part of the increase resulting from the higher electric and natural gas rates paid by customers.

The Spokane-based company reported net income of $73.6 million, or $1.36 per share, for 2008; compared to $38.5 million, or 72 cents per share, in 2007.

In a Wednesday conference call with analysts, Avista Chairman and CEO Scott Morris attributed part of the increase to higher rates approved by Washington and Idaho’s public utility commissions last year. Customers also used more power during a cold snap in early 2008, which helped Avista’s bottom line. The utility portion of the company’s business earned $70 million last year.

Avista’s 2007 earnings were particularly weak, which is why last year’s earnings reflect such a large jump, said Jessie Wuerst, an Avista spokeswoman. Wuerst described 2008 earnings as a “rebound,” saying that they’re on par with the $72.9 million Avista earned in 2006.

Avista earned less last year than the 10.2 percent rate of return authorized by Washington and Idaho regulators, Morris said.

However, “we recognize and understand the financial pressure that our customers are facing in these difficult economic times,” Morris said. He said the company is working to keep costs down.

Other factors also helped Avista’s 2008 earnings, Morris added. By refinancing some high-cost debt, Avista was able to reduce its interest expense last year. The higher earnings also reflect the sale of a money-losing subsidiary, Avista Energy, to Shell in late 2007.

For the fourth quarter, Avista reported net income of $17.5 million, or 32 cents per share, compared to net income of $14.1 million, or 26 cents per share, for the fourth quarter of 2007.

Itron earnings decline

Liberty Lake utility-meter company Itron Inc. Wednesday said it earned $4.3 million, or 12 cents per share, in its fourth quarter, compared with $4 million, or 12 cents per share, in the same period in 2007.

Fourth-quarter revenue fell 10 percent to $432 million, below analysts’ estimates of $440.6 million.

For all of 2008, the company reported net income of $28.1 million, or 80 cents a share, compared with a net loss of $16.1 million, or 55 cents a share, in 2007. Total revenues of $1.9 billion for 2008 were $446 million, or 30 percent higher, than 2007 full year revenues of $1.5 billion.

“As we communicated in January, our fourth quarter revenues and earnings were not as strong as they were in the first nine months,” said LeRoy Nosbaum, chairman and CEO.

For 2009 the company expects total revenues of $1.78 billion to $1.88 billion, slightly less than the 2008 figure.

Nighthawk earnings down

Coeur d’Alene-based Nighthawk Radiology posted net income for its fourth quarter of $2.7 million, or 9 cents per share, compared to $3.1 million, or 10 cents per share, in the same quarter of 2008.

Fourth quarter revenue was $39.7 million compared with $42.7 million in the same quarter one year ago.

The company provides radiology readings for hospitals and doctors from all over the world, with offices in Australia, the United States and Switzerland.

Net income for fiscal 2008 was $9.4 million or 31 cents per share, compared with $14.7 million and 47 cents per share for the full fiscal year 2007.

Teck Cominco posts loss

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Teck Cominco Ltd. announced a fourth quarter loss of $607 million Canadian this week, citing significant price declines in copper and zinc prices during the quarter.

The company also accrued $844 million in write-offs and other non-cash declines in value of its mining properties and marketable securities during the quarter. “While these items have a significant effect on our earnings, they are non-cash and do not affect our cash flows from operations,” company officials said.

Part of the non-cash charges accrued at the Pend Oreille Mine near Metaline Falls, Wash. Teck Cominco closed the mine earlier this month because of lower zinc prices.

Teck Cominco earned $280 million during the fourth quarter of 2007.

For all of 2008, the company reported earnings of $659 million, compared to $1.6 million for 2007.

The company also said that Moody’s Investor Services lowered its credit rating to Ba3 with a negative outlook.

Teck Cominco is trying to pay down debt related to last year’s purchase of Fording Canadian Coal Trust. Company officials said the difficult credit markets compromised its ability to carry out its original payment plan.

Teck Comico officials said that a number of cost-control measures are being taken to help the company meet its obligations, including cutting 1,400 positions worldwide, selling assets, ceasing operations at some properties, and suspending its dividend payment.

Becky Kramer Tom Sowa Tom Sowa Becky Kramer

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