Exelon Corp. said Friday that its first-quarter earnings rose 5 percent and the power company says its sees demand for electricity up slightly from its previous forecast.
The nation's utilities are a proxy for how the economy is doing. Signs of improved demand would support other indicators that the economy is getting better.
Exelon, based in Chicago, said it earned $749 million, or $1.13 per share, for the quarter ended March 31, up from $712 million, or $1.08 per share, in the year-ago quarter.
Discounting the one-time gains and charges, profit would have been $662 million, or $1 per share, down from $797 million, or $1.20 per share, in the year ago quarter.
Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a lower adjusted profit of 89 cents a share.
Revenue fell to $4.5 billion from $4.8 billion a year ago. That was well short of analysts' expectation of revenue of $4.72 billion.
Exelon's shares fell 59 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $43.06 in morning trading Friday after sinking to a 52-week low of $42.78 earlier in the session.
The company raised the bottom range of its 2010 earnings forecast from $3.60 to $3.70 per share while keeping the top end at $4 per share. Analysts expect earnings of $3.76 for the year.
Chairman and CEO John Rowe said the improvement recognizes further progress on controlling costs with demand "slightly favorable to our previous forecast."
Discounting weather, the company said electricity sales at its Chicago utility fell 0.8 percent and rose 0.5 percent in Philadelphia, primarily reflecting increased residential deliveries.
The company's profit was helped by gains in hedges for Exelon's expected generation. The company also recorded non-cash charges of about $65 million because of the recent federal health care overhaul.
Exelon and other companies currently receive a government subsidy to keep prescription drug benefits for retirees. They have been able to deduct their expenses, but that ends in 2013 under the recently passed legislation.
Companies are announcing the charges now because accounting rules say they have to book them during the period a new law is enacted.
The company, the nation's largest nuclear power operation, said its adjusted profit fell in part because of increased scheduled refueling outages at its nuclear fleet and lower margins within its generation business.
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