Bedminster, New Jersey-based NUI Corp., which is on the auction block, reported a 62-cent loss per share from continuing operations for the quarter compared to a loss of 16 cents/share in the same quarter last year and analysts’ expectations of a 40 cents/share quarterly loss. The company also announced that it is considering cutting its dividend.

NUI’s stock slipped less than a penny on the news Wednesday to $16.81. It also reported a net loss of $17.7 million for the quarter and $23.5 million net loss for its fiscal year 2003.

While results from regulated distribution operations improved, they were offset by declines in its energy services and retail and business services segments. The company continues to feel the pain of lower margins in energy trading and the costs of discontinuing large swaths of its business. It also reported increased interest expenses and had to pay a severance package for its chief executive during the final quarter of its fiscal year.

“Last year, we set out on a plan to concentrate on our core business activities,” said NUI President Mark Abramovic. “We have made significant progress in narrowing our focus this past year by shutting down or selling certain of our businesses. However, credit rating downgrades and adverse business conditions led the board of directors to put the company up for sale in order to maximize value for our shareholders.

“We are pleased with the interest we have seen with regard to selling the company and hope to enter into an agreement to sell the company during the first quarter of calendar year 2004,” he said.

Since September 2002, the company has either sold or exited the following businesses: North Carolina Gas, Valley Cities/Waverly Gas, NUI Environmental Group, NUI Energy and TIC Enterprises. In addition, in July it announced its intention to sell Utility Business Services and NUI Telecom, and on Sept 26, it announced its intention to pursue a sale of the entire company.

NUI said it is pursuing a refinancing of certain of its outstanding debt that will address maturities in 2004 and provide financial flexibility and liquidity while its sale is pursued. The company hopes to be able to announce the successful closing of the refinancing in the next few weeks.

Its total revenues in fiscal 2003 rose to $641.2 million, compared to $516.4 million in 2002. Fiscal 2003 operating margins increased 9% to $214.2 million. However, operations and maintenance expenses increased 22% to $23.2 million and income from continuing operations fell as a result.

Its regulated distribution businesses in New Jersey, Florida and Maryland, posted a 15% increase in margins for the fiscal year. It successfully completed a rate case in New Jersey. Temperatures were 36% colder than the previous year, and there were increased off-system sales and customer growth. Distribution operating income increased 3% to $44.7 million for the fiscal year.

However, energy asset management, which includes NUI Energy Brokers and the storage, pipeline and distribution operations of Virginia Gas Co., contributed operating margins of $25.2 million in fiscal 2003, compared to $28.4 million in fiscal 2002. The decrease in margins is attributable to decreased daily trading activity as a result of credit rating downgrades during the year and the effect of adopting additional provisions of Emerging Issues Task Force (EITF) 02-03.

NUI’s retail and business services segment, which includes the remaining portion of the company’s retail energy marketing business that is in the process of winding down and the company’s digital mapping business, reported negative margins of $0.8 million in fiscal 2003, compared to positive margins of $3.5 million in fiscal 2002.

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