Duke Energy reported $2.1 billion in 2016 earnings Thursday, a 23 percent drop from the $2.8 billion of the previous year, but reached the high end of its earnings per share target.
The company said it would expand its capital spending over the next five years to invest heavily in updating its grid, measures that can improve reliability for customers.
Duke reported earnings per share of $3.11, down from $4.05 for the full year of 2015. Adjusted for one-time costs, including a currency-related loss on the sale of its Latin America businesses that had been expected, earnings were $4.69 a share compared to $4.54 in 2015.
Duke had expected a strong third quarter and the early close of Duke’s acquisition of Piedmont to push 2016 earnings to the high end of its guidance costs of $4.50 to $4.70 a share, not including repair costs from Hurricane Matthew in October.
Favorable weather, including a warm summer that had customers cranking up their air conditioning, and an early close, in October, of the Duke’s acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas boosted yearly earnings, the company said.
Chairman and CEO Lynn Good, in a statement, called 2016 “a transformational year for Duke Energy as we acquired Piedmont Natural Gas and exited our international business, positioning the company for more consistent earnings and cash flow growth. We continue to advance our long-term growth strategy to modernize the energy grid, generate cleaner energy and expand natural gas infrastructure.”
Duke set its 2017 target for adjusted earnings in a range between $4.50 to $4.70 a share.
Duke reported a fourth-quarter loss of $227 million, or 33 cents a share, compared to the $477 million in profits and 69 cents a share of one year earlier. Duke attributed the loss largely to the sale of its international business.
Adjusted earnings for the quarter were 81 cents a share, meeting the consensus of analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research, compared to 87 cents in adjusted earnings a year earlier.
Duke also said it would boost spending on capital projects, largely tied to grid improvements, by 25 percent over the next five years to $37 billion.
Longer term, the company plans to spend $25 billion over the next decade in modernizing the grid and $11 billion on cleaner energy such as natural gas, solar and wind. Duke also wants to nearly double its earnings from natural gas.
Grid improvements will be aimed at improving reliability, such as by placing power lines underground and limiting outages due to storms, and in “smart grid” improvements that use digital technology to give customers more information and options about their energy use.
Duke, the second-largest U.S. electric utility by market capitalization, returned to core businesses in 2016 by dumping its volatile businesses in Latin America and closing its $4.9 billion merger with Piedmont Natural Gas.
Duke owns a 47 percent stake in a company that will build and own a natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to eastern North Carolina. Duke expects an environmental study of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to be completed by late June, with federal approval 90 days later.
Chief financial officer Steve Young, in a Bloomberg broadcast interview, said Duke likes President Donald Trump’s emphasis on building infrastructure such as pipelines. Duke hopes regulatory approvals for those projects would be approved quicker under the Trump administration, he said.
Young said Duke, after the Piedmont acquisition and shedding the international and merchant plant businesses in the Midwest, will continue to look for expansion opportunities.
“We’ve got the businesses that we want and we’re going to develop them organically; great opportunities there,” he told Bloomberg. “We will keep our eye on the markets for assets as we have done in the past. We’re opportunistic and we’ll be frugal with our cost of capital, but great opportunities out there as we build the grid of the United States and decarbonize.”
Duke received a construction and operating license for the Lee nuclear plant in South Carolina but hasn’t decided whether to build it. Cost overruns for two nuclear stations under construction in South Carolina and Georgia threaten to topple Japan’s Toshiba, which owns Westinghouse, designer of the reactors the plants will use.