Xcel said Thursday it would likely invest more in its infrastructure as it announced its profits rose 5% during the third quarter but fell short of analysts’ forecasts.
The Minneapolis-based company increased its five-year forecast for capital spending — such as investments in generation, transmission and the like — by about 10% to $22 billion.
The utility reported ongoing earnings of $527 million, or $1.01 per share, for the July through September period. Analysts were on average looking for earnings of $1.03 per share. Xcel earned $491 million, or 96 cents per share, during the same time last year. Xcel’s sales for the quarter clocked in at $3.01 billion, down 1%.
Xcel CEO Ben Fowke said the results were “solid.” Xcel’s stock closed at $64.54, up 10 cents.
Xcel is the largest electric utility and second-largest natural gas provider in Minnesota, one of the company’s two largest markets along with Colorado. Xcel also operates in Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Texas, New Mexico and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The company Thursday narrowed its full-year earnings expectations to the upper half of its 2019 guidance range. Xcel also released 2020 earnings guidance of $2.73 to $2.83 per share, consistent with its objective of 5% to 7% profit growth.
Xcel’s refreshed capital spending plan should support that profit goal, Neil Kalton, a Wells Fargo stock analyst, wrote in a research report Thursday. Plus, Xcel management emphasized in an earnings conference call that “upside drivers to the [capital spending] forecast could emerge over time,” Kalton wrote.
Returns on capital investment are a primary earnings driver for regulated utilities like Xcel.
In 2020, Xcel’s largest planned capital expenditure — $1.7 billion — covers renewable energy, notably several wind farms that have already been approved by regulators. New renewable projects are not a significant capital-expense item for the rest of the five-year period. Xcel has said that will change around 2025 with major solar power rollouts.
The company’s $665 million purchase of the Mankato Energy Center, a gas-fired power plant, is also on the nearer-term capital spending horizon.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in September rejected Xcel’s purchase of the Mankato plant, questioning its value to Minnesota ratepayers. Xcel still plans to buy the plant but through an unregulated subsidiary, thereby shifting risk from ratepayers to its shareholders.
Over Xcel’s five-year capital spending forecast, the company’s largest expenditures — $11.5 billion altogether — are projected to be in its distribution and transmission system.
“We have a lot of opportunities to invest in our grid,” Fowke said Thursday in a conference call with analysts. “I’ve always said, as you know, that those sort of investments are always capped at the willingness for the consumer to pay.”
The willingness of utility regulators, of course, is critical, too.
So far this year, Xcel has filed for electricity rates increases in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. The company is expected to file for a rate increase in Minnesota early next month, its first here since 2015.