Spokane, WA-based Avista Corp. Wednesday reported fourth quarter earnings of $15.1 million, or 31 cents/share, compared with $10.9 million, or 23 cents/share, for the same period in 2002, noting the 39% increase in net income came in a year in which hydro-electric supplies were only 85% of normal and wholesale natural gas prices continued to be volatile.

The company’s senior management affirmed its previous earnings outlook of between $1 and $1.20/diluted share, with the outlook for the utilities in the 75 to 90 cents/diluted share range. Its non-utility merchant energy operations should be in the 25-35 cents/share range in 2004. For 2003, the utilities were 72 cents/share, compared with 71 cents/share in 2002, and the merchant operations last year were 43 cents/share, compared to 47 cents/share in 2002.

For the most recent quarter, the utilities earned 33 cents/share, compared with 23 cents/share in the fourth quarter of 2002, but the merchant operations showed a 1 cent/share loss, compared with 6 cents/share earnings in the last quarter of 2002.

Avista CEO Gary Ely called the company’s overall 2003 performance “solid,” noting the utility holding company is continuing to execute its financial recovery plan, including “setting and meeting financial targets, reducing interest expenses by $12 million more in 2003 than 2002, and keeping operations within budget without sacrificing reliability or safety.”

He said the company is “resolving the regulatory and financial challenges” it faced during the past few years.

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