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Sempra Energy 4Q Profit Up 3.9%; Dividend Raised 25%

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Sempra Energy's (SRE) fourth-quarter earnings rose 3.9% as the natural-gas distributor and market posted strong growth at its San Diego Gas & Electric utility and the company's pipelines and storage segment. The company's board approved a 25% increase in the quarterly dividend, raising it to 60 cents a share, up by 12 cents a share. The increased payout is estimated to cost Sempra an additional $116 million a year. For the year, the company projected per-share earnings of $4 to $4.30, reflecting changes in how it accounts for its solar-generation projects. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters recently expected $4.46. Sempra, which owns electric and natural-gas utilities in California, as well as gas pipelines and storage facilities and gas export terminals in the U.S. and Mexico, has been expanding into the wholesale solar-power and wind-power markets. The San Diego-based company's Cameron LNG recently was authorized to export liquefied natural-gas, to countries that have free-trade agreements with the U.S. Domestic natural gas producers are hoping to sell the commodity overseas, where it can command much higher prices than in the U.S. Sempra reported a profit of $294 million, or $1.21 a share, up from $283 million, or $1.15 a share, a year earlier. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently projected earnings of $1.06. Revenue increased 11% to $2.6 billion. San Diego Gas & Electric posted a 50% rise in earnings, due primarily to a favorable resolution of regulatory matters, earnings from construction projects in progress and higher authorized margins. Southern California Gas Co. earnings rose 6.8%. Sempra Pipelines and Storage earnings were up 79%, with a boost from the acquisition of the controlling interest in two South American utilities in April 2011. Sempra Generation swung to a segment loss of $6 million from year-earlier earnings of $43 million, mostly owing to the expiration of a 10-year California Department of Water Resources power-supply contract in September. Shares were up 2% at $59.07 in recent premarket trading. -By Tess Stynes, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2481;

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