("Exelon CEO: Gas, Power Prices in Trough, but Recovery Ahead," at 10:10 a.m. EDT, misstated the stock price in the seventh paragraph. The correct version follows:)
By Cassandra Sweet
NEW YORK--U.S. natural gas prices, which have pulled power prices to historic lows, are likely to bounce back by 2014 and benefit power sellers, Exelon Corp.'s (EXC) top executive said Thursday.
The low natural gas and power prices have pressured revenues and profits of power plant operators such as Exelon, forcing them to look for other businesses, such as selling electricity to retail customers, rather than the wholesale market, to earn better returns.
U.S. natural gas prices are likely to rise to $4 a million British thermal units by 2014, pushing power prices higher and benefiting electricity providers, Exelon Chief Executive Christopher Crane said.
"We're in a trough, but by 2014, we'll start to come back out of the position we're in, with gas prices around $4" a million BTUs, Mr. Crane said, speaking at a meeting with analysts.
Exelon expects 2012 adjusted operating earnings of $2.55 to $2.85 a share, Mr. Crane said.
Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters most recently estimated per-share earnings at $2.98.
Shares of Exelon were recently trading 1.5% higher at about $38.03.
The company is committed to providing a shareholder dividend of $2.10 a share, despite the difficult wholesale market, Mr. Crane said. He added that the dividend would "compensate investors during the market downturn."
Exelon bought rival Constellation Energy in March, bringing in that company's Baltimore Gas & Electric and PECO utilities, its fleet of nuclear and other power plants, and its retail electricity business that operates in states with deregulated power markets.
The new, larger company has $74.5 billion in assets, $32.7 billion of 2011 revenue, about 35 gigawatts of power plant generation, and about 6.6 million utility customers, the company said Thursday.
The company expects about half its cash flow and revenue to come from its utilities and about half to come from its power plants, Mr. Crane said.
Exelon also expects to cut costs within the combined company, use project financing for renewable-power projects and defer some generation growth projects until the wholesale market improves.
Exelon has the largest merchant generation power plant fleet in the U.S. and it is the nation's largest operator of nuclear power plants. In addition to the other utilities, Exelon owns Chicago-based utility Commonwealth Edison.
The company had a market capitalization of about $32 billion as of Thursday.
Write to Cassandra Sweet at email@example.com