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TransAlta Corporation (TAC)
Q1 2010 Earnings Call
April 27, 2010 11:00 am ET
Jennifer Pierce - VP of IR and Communications
Steve Snyder - President and CEO
Brian Burden - CFO
Ken Stickland - CLO
Frank Hawkins - VP and Treasurer
Linda Ezergailis - TD NewCrest
Bob Hastings - Canaccord Adams
Matthew Akman - Macquari
Andrew Kuske - Credit Suisse
Michael McGowan - BMO Capital Markets
Robert Kwan - RBC Capital Markets
Petro Panarites - CIBC World Markets
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Thank you, Jessie, and good morning everyone. Welcome to TransAlta’s first quarter 2010 conference call. With me today are Steve Snyder, our President and CEO; Brian Burden, our Chief Financial Officer; Ken Stickland, our Legal Officer; and Frank Hawkins, our Vice President and Treasurer.
Earlier this morning, we realized our first quarter results, we hope you’ve had a chance to review them. Additional operating information will be posted on our website after this call. All information provided during this conference call is subject to the forward-looking statement qualification, which is detailed in today’s news release and incorporated in full for the purposes of our call. The amounts referenced in the review are in Canadian currency unless otherwise stated.
In addition, the non-GAAP terminology used in this call including comparable earnings, operating income and gross margin is reconciled starting on page 21 of the MD&A. Per share figures for the first quarter of 2010 are based on an average of 219 million shares outstanding compared to 198 million shares in the first quarter of 2009. Please note, financial information has been rounded to the nearest whole number.
On this morning’s call, Steve will provide an overview of operating results for the quarter. Brian will provide details on our cash flow, depreciation, capital allocation and balance sheet items. And before going to questions-and-answers, Steve will provide commentary and what investors can expect for the balance of 2010 and the recent Memorandum of Understating that were signed between TransAlta and the State of Washington.
With that, let me turn the call over to Steve.
Good morning. Our first quarter results reflect the strong operational improvements we have made across our fleet. Our first quarter 2010 comparable earning per share were up $0.31, it’s a significant improvement over the $0.18 achieved a year ago. We also achieved a net earnings of $0.31 per share, compared to $0.21 per share in quarter one of the 2009, again a significant improvement. These gains have been driven primarily by our base operations. There were fewer planned outages in the quarter and substantially fewer unplanned outages.
As a result, for the quarter, we achieved fleet availability of 91.4% compared to 86.4% a year ago. Solid fleet availability was realized with each of our plans individually achieving at or above the targets we presented at Investor Day, last November. On the market side, continued poor market conditions and poor wind resources in January and February did not provide opportunities for us to translate our operating performance into even better earnings.
While some pricing impacts were mitigated through our disciplined contracting strategy, electricity prices remained extremely soft in the quarter. In Alberta, spot prices during the quarter averaged only $41 per megawatt hour, compared to $63 a year ago. This was driven mainly by low natural gas prices, as well as higher availability from our own coal fleet over last year. Pacific Northwest prices also remained soft, although slightly above last year. Average spot prices in the region settled around US$42 per megawatt compared to US$35 last year.
Despite excellent availability, our wind resources in the quarter were down approximately 30% compared to what we would see in a normal year. As a result, expected production from our wind facilities was lower by roughly 200 gig watt hours. This phenomenon is consistent with the effects of El Nino, which typically only impact the first two to three months of the year, and we have already seen wind resources pickup throughout April. Past years have shown recovery of wind volumes in subsequent months and in our El Nino year.
Finally, looking at energy trading, gross margins for the quarter were $14 million, only slightly below the $15 million achieved last year. Overall, we’re off to a good start to the year. Before we provide an update on what to expect for the balance of the year, and commenting on our MOU with the State of Washington, I’ll turn the call over to Brian Burden.
Thank you, Steve. This morning I look at both our cash flow performance for the quarter and our operations, maintenance, and administration expenses. I’ll provide an update to our sustaining and growth capital spending for 2010 and also give an update on our liquidity and financial metrics. I’ll also cover briefly that changes we’ve made to our Alberta coal fleet depreciation rates.
So, cash flow from operations in the first quarter was $174 million, compared to $83 million a year ago. The primary drivers of the $91 million increase were more favorable changes in working capital, and then for the full-year, we continued to expect to achieve $850 million to $950 million in cash flow from operations driven mainly by higher cash earnings.
Our operations, maintenance, and administration cost for the quarter decreased $14 million compared to last year. As a result of reduced plant maintenance activities in the quarter, partially offset by the acquisition of Canadian Hydro.