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Southern Co. (SO) forecast Wednesday its retail-electricity sales would climb 1.3% in 2012 and its profit for the year would be between $2.58 and $2.70 a share, up roughly 5% from 2011.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had projected a 5% increase in 2012 earnings to $2.69 a share.
Shares of Southern recently were trading 0.7% lower at $44.61. The company posted higher fourth-quarter and full-year earnings, but its fourth-quarter revenue missed analysts' expectations.
The company plans to spend up to $18.4 billion over the next three years on new nuclear-power and other projects, including up to $5.7 billion planned for 2012.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to issue a license for the company to build two new nuclear reactors "any day now," Tom Fanning, Southern's chief executive, said during a conference call with analysts.
Southern said it hopes to obtain federal-loan guarantees of as much as $4.3 billion to build two new reactors planned for the Plant Vogtle nuclear-power complex in Georgia and a low-emission coal-fired power plant in Mississippi. That amount would cover about 40% of the total estimated cost of the projects, the company said.
Southern, one of the largest U.S. utilities, reported quarterly profit of $261 million, or 30 cents a share, up from $153 million, or 18 cents a share, a year earlier. In October, the company predicted earnings of 29 cents a share.
Revenue fell 2% to $3.7 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently forecast $4.01 billion.
Southern reported full-year 2011 earnings of $2.2 billion, or $2.57 a share, up from $1.97 billion or $2.37 a share in 2010.
Full-year revenue was $17.66 billion, up slightly from $17.46 billion in 2010.
-By Cassandra Sweet, Dow Jones Newswires; 415-439-6468; firstname.lastname@example.org