Dominion Resources Earnings Call Nuggets: Sequestration Impact and Retail Business Dynamics

Dominion Resources (NYSE:D) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Sequestration Impact

Dan Eggers – Credit Suisse: Listen, on the load growth walk, it seems it is a little more caution maybe or tone in what you guys said today maybe from the Analyst Day. Can you maybe just shed a little more light on what you’re seeing and are we seeing the impact of sequestration or other things in the area that’s having more variant on the outlook this year?

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Mark F. McGettrick – EVP and CFO: Dan, it was hard to hear you, but this is Mark. I think I got your question and see if I can address it with a little more depth. January and February for us were pretty close to expectations in terms of load growth, but March dropped off significantly for us. And so sales for the quarter were only up about 1%. We were very pleased with commercial sales. They were up about 3%. Industrial sales, which is a small item for us, but they were up by 1%, but our residential sales were fairly flat. We don’t have an answer for this for you today; it’s something we’re monitoring closely, and we’ll talk more about as we go through the year. But the reason – one of the principal reasons to announce the expense reduction program today is to safeguard ourselves from any potential sale shortfall if that were to occur. If that doesn’t occur, then some of those expenses will be put back into operating budgets later in the year. But we want to make sure we got out in front of this and we safeguard ourselves so we have a better picture on what sales might look at like this year.

Dan Eggers – Credit Suisse: I guess just on the – (with) kind of leading the next question which is on the cost-cutting, can you explain what all is going into that? Are these kind of period-specific costs that will be caught up in future periods, or are these some structural changes that are bringing more costs out of the system as you reevaluate the business?

Mark F. McGettrick – EVP and CFO: It’s going to be a combination of both. Some will be structural changes. Some will be timing changes that we’ll redeploy for future periods. We’re finalizing those plans now and should have that in place by the end of April. We will tell you one of the first steps we took in the first quarter was to significantly restrict new staffing for the Company, which typically is in the range of 300 to 400 new employees every year, as a way to give us a running start on this. It’s being managed very closely. And so based on that, we think we’re in good shape as we implement other changes throughout the Company. And again, as I mentioned previously, some of them will be time-based; some of them will be permanent…

Dan Eggers – Credit Suisse: And so we should assume that the O&M costs for ’13 are now going to be down almost noticeably versus 2012 with this program as well?

Mark F. McGettrick – EVP and CFO: Actually, I think with the $100 million item, you should see expenses ’12 to ’13 to be very flat.

Dan Eggers – Credit Suisse: And then I guess just one last question on the biennial review. Given where your earned ROEs are in the (mid legislation) came through in Virginia this spring. Do you guys see the opportunity potentially to settle with parties and kind of get everybody passed this and focus back on the business full time or is this going to be a fully litigated process.

Thomas F. Farrell II – Chairman, President and CEO: Dan, we’re always happy to talk to the parties about settlement. I think you have to let the process run its course at least for some period of time before people are willing to talk about that. I do think the issues are pretty limited. In this case, I’m sure people will want to talk about the going forward earnings band. For example that won’t affect base rates, but we’ll have its impact in some regard in what the earnings test is for ’13 and ’14 and the little increment of that appears in the riders. So, I think that will obviously be an area for discussion, but the accounting issues are not very complex.


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Retail Business Dynamics

Steve Fleishman – Wolfe Trahan: Just first question on the biennial. Where do the peer group ROEs come out in your filing, the three-year rolling?

Thomas F. Farrell II – Chairman, President and CEO: Steve, I don’t have that sitting here in front of me. I apologize. We’ll get it – we’ll make sure it’s posted on the website. It’s in the testimony. It’s all out there in the public domain. The average of the – if you use all 11, the average is 10.74%.

Steve Fleishman – Wolfe Trahan: And then on the retail business, I know you had a tough comp; last year you did very well, but could you just go into any dynamics you’re seeing in the retail business so far this year?

Mark F. McGettrick – EVP and CFO: Steve, let me just mention the comparable to last year first and then I’ll turn it over to Paul to go into more depth on it. If you look at the reconciliation on the Schedule 4, just Page 10, I think of the kit, it shows a $0.07 quarter-over-quarter change from ’13 to ’12, and that was driven by two items. I talked about this at the Analyst Meeting on March 4 to expect this. We took a $0.05 of one-time mark-to-market gain in the first quarter of last year based on some commercial and industrial contracts that were deemed to be derivatives. So that was $0.05 of the difference. The remaining $0.02 is just the normal roll-off of those contracts that occurred beginning in the second quarter last year and will continue through the rest of this year. So those are the two high-level drivers. But in terms of the dynamics in retail, let me ask Paul to comment on that.

Paul D. Koonce – EVP, Dominion Resources, Inc.; CEO, Energy Infrastructure Group; and CEO, Dominion Virginia Power: Yeah, Steve, good morning. The dynamics; when you look at the ABS, it’s going to be published here in just a few minutes. You’ll see that retail actually had a strong quarter. They hit albeit at the low end of the guidance range, but when you look at customer counts in the kit, you see that customer counts were up; you can see that volumes were up, but it is a competitive business. So, when you compare it to guidance, it’s kind of what we expected, but it’s less than last year.

Steve Fleishman – Wolfe Trahan: One other question just on the issue with Millstone on the basis – I guess the congestion in February. Is this something we should worry about just with all the different gas dynamics into New England that could have any ongoing issue or is it just very driven by that storm and the like and transmission issues from that?

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Mark F. McGettrick – EVP and CFO: Steve, let me have Dave Christian answer that for you?

David A. Christian – EVP, Dominion Resources, Inc.; and CEO, Dominion Generation Group: Yeah, it looks like that was a predominantly concentrated in one week in February and wouldn’t expect to see a lot of that throughout the rest of the year.