Mild weather seen in the Southeast and a softer U.S. economy were not enough to trip up Southern Co.’s 2001 earnings results as several factors, including continued customer growth and cost controls, helped the utility giant post earnings for the year of $1.12 billion, or $1.62 per share, compared with reported earnings of $994 million, or $1.52 per share, in 2000.

The full-year results exceeded analysts’ consensus expectations and represent a 6.6% increase in earnings per share when compared to results from 2000. Southern’s 2001 earnings also received a boost from lower interest expenses from declining short-term debt and reduced interest rates.

“The past year clearly stood in sharp contrast to 2000 when conditions were much more favorable to our business,” said Southern Chairman Allen Franklin in a prepared statement. “But our employees rose to the challenge and enabled us to produce positive results. We concluded 2001 as one of the industry’s strongest performers. With signs pointing to economic recovery, we anticipate continued earnings growth of at least 5% annually.”

For the fourth quarter of 2001, the company’s reported earnings were $116 million, or 16 cents per share, compared with $64 million, or nine cents per share, in the fourth quarter of 2000. Fourth quarter earnings also exceeded analysts’ consensus expectations.

Meanwhile, revenues at Southern for 2001 were $10.2 billion, compared with $10.1 billion in 2000. Fourth quarter revenues totaled $2.2 billion, compared with $2.3 billion in the same period a year earlier.

During the Q&A portion of a conference call related to Thursday’s earnings announcement, Southern executives were asked to comment on the utility possibly pursuing asset acquisitions.

“We have said all along that we’re interested in generating assets that are in the Southeast,” Franklin said. “That’s our strategy, to keep our investment close to home where we think we have some advantages,” he added.

“So we’re clearly interested,” he continued. “If they’re good assets, good generating assets that fit into our strategy, and if we have a place to put the power, if we have a contract or if we can develop a contract, and the price is right, we’d be very interested.”

Southern executives also used Thursday’s conference call to provide earnings projections for 2002. “With some improvement in the industrial sector of the economy, we expect to be able to grow earnings this year by approximately nine cents a share,” said Gale Klappa, chief financial officer for Southern. “So our guidance for 2002 will be $1.71 a share.”

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