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Duke Energy quarterly profit rises almost 15 percent

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Duke Energy Corp.'s first-quarter earnings rose almost 15 percent on strong results from its international operations and lower corporate costs.

Duke, based in Charlotte, N.C., said Tuesday its net income rose to $511 million, or 38 cents a share, in the three months ended March 31. That's up from $445 million, or 34 cents a share, a year ago. Analysts expected earnings of 35 cents a share.

Revenue edged up 2 percent to $3.7 billion. Analysts expected revenue of $3.8 billion, according to FactSet.

Earnings at Duke's international operations improved 22 percent as a result of a favorable arbitration award in Peru, higher prices in Brazil and favorable exchange rates.

Duke serves 4 million electric customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, along with 500,000 natural gas customers in Ohio and Kentucky.

The company's corporate costs dropped by $101 million in the quarter, to $45 million from $146 million a year earlier. Last year an employee buyout program resulted in high severance costs and costs associated with consolidating offices. Also last year the company made a donation to the Duke Energy Foundation, a charity.

Earnings at the company's regulated utilities fell 4 percent because of higher operating and maintenance costs and more temperate weather, which reduced demand for power.

"We were a little disappointed our sales growth in the residential sector wasn't more than it was but our international operations came through for us," said Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers in an interview.

Earnings at Duke's commercial power division fell 42% as customers switched to lower-priced competitors in Ohio. Also, the division marked down the value of its economic hedges.

Lynn Good, Duke's chief financial officer, said commercial and residential demand remains weak. "It's hard to know of it's a one quarter thing or a multi-quarter thing," she said.

Rogers said the company remained on track to earn $1.35 to $1.40 per share for the full year. Analysts expect earnings of $1.36 per share. Good said industrial demand for power is growing, and she expects it to continue to grow throughout the year.

In January, Duke agreed to buy Progress Energy, also based in North Carolina, for $13.7 billion. The deal would create the nation's largest electric utility. The company said the deal remains on track to close later this year.
 

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