UPDATE 1-TransAlta profit falls on higher expenses

Wed Feb 24, 2010 10:32am EST

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CALGARY, Alberta, Feb 24 (Reuters) - TransAlta Corp (TA.TO), Canada's biggest publicly owned electricity producer, said on Wednesday its profit fell 16 percent as higher expenses ate into its results.

The company said net income fell to C$79 million ($75 million), or 37 Canadian cents a share, in the fourth quarter from C$94 million, or 47 Canadian cents, in the year-before quarter.

Comparable earnings, which exclude most one-time items, rose 6.3 percent to C$84 million, or 40 Canadian cents a share, from C$79 million, or 40 Canadian cents.

Analysts on average had forecast comparable earnings of 49 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

TransAlta said the rise in comparable earnings resulted from less downtime at its Alberta power plants, though some of the increased reliability was offset by lower power prices in Alberta, a weaker performance from its hydro-electricity operations and lower trading profits.

Cash flow, a measure of the company's ability to fund new projects, fell 43 percent to C$246 million from C$428 million in the year-earlier quarter.

TransAlta's availability, or the amount of its power-generating capacity that was running, averaged 87 percent in the quarter, up from 86.2 percent.

Revenue fell 5.6 percent to C$763 million.

TransAlta shares fell 35 Canadian cents to C$23.32 early on Wednesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

($1=$1.05 Canadian) (Reporting by Scott Haggett; editing by Peter Galloway)

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