By Kaitlin Schuler
Exelon Corp., hurt by weak energy prices and unfavorable weather in its service areas, reported fourth quarter profits that fell short of forecasts Wednesday.
But the company’s shares nonetheless moved higher, after Exelon hinted that it is planning to begin boosting its quarterly dividend payout. In New York Stock Exchange trading, Exelon shares closed up $1.47, or 4.9 percent, at $31.61 on Wednesday.
In the latest quarter, the Chicago-based utility posted net income of $309 million or 33 cents per diluted share, up from $18 million or 2 cents per share in the year ago quarter.
Revenues decreased 3.9 percent to $6.68 billion from $6.95 billion a year ago.
Exelon officials noted that excluding special items in both quarters, adjusted earnings declined to $347 million, or 38 cents a share, from $421 million, or 48 cents, a year ago.
The adjusted per-share results fell a few cents short of the 41 cents analysts surveyed by Yahoo Finance had been expecting. But Wall Street opted to focus instead on the potential dividend increase.
“We think the biggest positive for shareholders was management’s announcement that it plans to recommend to the board a 2.5% annual dividend increase for at least the next three years, likely starting in the second half of 2016,” Travis Miller, a financial analyst at Morningstar, Inc., said in an online note.
“We had not expected a dividend increase until at least 2018, given our expected plateau in earnings the next three years,” the analyst added. Exelon cut its dividend by 41 percent in 2013, during a period when the energy provider was experiencing financial stress.
The energy company announced a policy during the earnings conference call that, if approved by the board, would increase the dividend by 2.5 percent each year for the next three years, beginning in June 2016. The company currently pays a dividend of 31 cents a share quarterly.
Chris Crane, Exelon president and chief executive officer, said the dividend increase “shows our commitment to provide an attractive total return proposition for our shareholders and reflects the shift in focus towards our regulated utility and long-term contract businesses.”
Net income of full-year 2015 increased 39.8 percent to $2.27 billion or $2.54 per diluted share from $1.62 billion or $1.88 per share.