Cost cuts hold up Southern Co. profits

But cost cutting helped Georgia Power's parent on Wednesday  report increased earnings for the fourth quarter, and only a modest decrease in profits for all of 2009.

The new year should be better. Southern expects its overall retail energy sales, in the industrial, residential and commercial business sectors, to increase  1.8 percent, with the biggest turnaround coming in the hard-hit industrial segment.

Last year, overall energy sales to retail customers in Southern's four-state service area, including Georgia, fell 4.8 percent from 2008.

Southern reported net profits for the fourth quarter of $251 million, or 31 cents a share, up from $186 million, or 24 cents a share, in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Net profit for the year was $1.65 billion, or $2.07 a share, compared to $1.74 billion, or $2.26 a share, in 2008.

Excluding certain charges, Southern earned 31 cents a share for the fourth quarter, compared to 26 cents for the fourth quarter in 2008. For the year, earnings were $2.32 a share in 2009, compared to $2.37 a share in 2008.

Revenues for the year were $15.7 billion, down 8.1 percent from $17.1 billion in 2008. Fourth quarter revenues were $3.5 billion, down 7.7 percent from $3.8 billion in 2008.

The recession had a major impact on Southern. Electricity sales generally track the growth of the economy. Industrial sales fell 11.8 percent, as factories slowed or stopped production.

Southern CEO David Ratcliffe said the recession, "marked the greatest negative impact on energy demand in Southern Company's history."

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