DULUTH – Allete Inc. had been riding high in the months leading up to the pandemic — 2019 saw record profits for the Duluth-based energy company, and the stock price had reached new highs after a steady yearslong climb.
On Tuesday that momentum continued to stumble as the stock price neared a 12-month low even as CEO Bethany Owen assured investors the company will find its way through the global crisis.
“We at Allete have successfully navigated previous downturns during more than a century of operations,” Owen said at Tuesday’s virtual annual shareholder meeting.
Coming off a strong start to the year, Allete, the parent company of Minnesota Power, faces an uncertain path through the pandemic. The company withdrew its 2020 earnings guidance earlier this month and joined a group of other large utilities asking state regulators to track COVID-19 expenses and losses for potential recovery later.
Allete’s value has dropped from $4.19 billion at the start of the year to a market capitalization of $2.72 billion at the end of trading Tuesday.
CFRA Research has issued a hold recommendation for the company’s shares.
“Although we see good fundamentals and expect continued growth in the clean energy business, we see caution signs for the industrial segment,” Andrzej Tomczyk, an equity analyst at CFRA, wrote in a statement last week.
Despite Iron Range mine shutdowns — Minnesota Power sells more than half of its electricity to a handful of large industrial customers — the company doesn’t expect a financial impact until after August, when large power users submit their production levels for the remainder of the year.
A million tons of taconite mined and processed translates into earnings of about $0.04 per share; last year Minnesota produced about 37 million tons.
Owen said her team has “worked to protect Allete’s financial health.”
“Proactive steps to ensure liquidity give us confidence that we are well-positioned,” she said.
The company had $133 million in cash on May 4 with $322 million of available credit. Allete reported a $185.5 million profit on $1.2 billion in revenue last year, which included the sale of U.S. Water Services.
Along with Minnesota Power, Allete also owns Superior Water, Light & Power in Wisconsin; coal company BNI Energy in North Dakota; and Allete Clean Energy, which saw its profits double last quarter as it continued to grow wind farm holdings. Minnesota Power is poised to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2021.
Owen, who was named CEO in February, said utility workers are on the front lines of the pandemic and the company intends “to build on our reputation as a trusted leader and regional partner.”
Allete’s stock fell nearly 3% Tuesday, a down day for the market overall, to end trading at $52.68. Shares have traded as high as $88.60 and as low as $50.01 in the past year.