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FPL Group 4Q Profit Falls 14% On Weakness At Generating Operations

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES FPL Group Inc.'s (FPL) fourth-quarter earnings fell 14% amid declines at its unregulated generating unit, while retail demand improved in its primary market in Florida. However, the profit beat analysts' expectations. For the year, the power utility company lowered the top end of its reduced October earnings forecast by 20 cents, and now expects $4.25 to $4.65 a share. Power demand has been declining for about two years as consumers strive to save energy and industries curb production. The company recently suspended about $10 billion in capital projects over the next five years as Florida regulators rejected most of its requested $1.3 billion rate hike amid weakness in the state's economy, one of the hardest hit by the housing downturn. FPL had sought about a 30% increase in the base rates it charges customers--which fund infrastructure projects--at its Florida Power & Light utility, the first such increase sought by the company in a quarter-century. The company on Tuesday said it is continuing to assess what changes it will make as a result of the regulators' decision. FPL reported a profit of $349 million, or 85 cents a share, down from $408 million, or $1.01 a share, a year earlier. Excluding items, such as hedging effects and write-downs at its generating business, earnings fell to 79 cents from 90 cents. Revenue decreased 8.5% to $3.66 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently forecast earnings of 76 cents on revenue of $4.01 billion. Operating margin fell to 15.2% from 18.9%. At its utility segment, which makes up the bulk of FPL Group's operating revenue, earnings rose 23% as retail electricity sales increased 7.7% amid unseasonably warm weather. Its unregulated generating business saw profit drop 33% amid an extended shutdown at a nuclear plant, weak market conditions in Texas and poor wind resources. The business--NextEra Energy Resources--is the largest U.S. wind-power operator and also owns nuclear and natural-gas fired generation assets. Shares closed Monday at $44.75 and didn't trade premarket. The stock is down 9.6% this year. -By Tess Stynes, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2481; Tess.Stynes@dowjones.com

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