UPDATE 2-Duke Energy expects higher power rates to drive profit
* Expects 2014 adjusted EPS of $4.45-$4.60 vs est $4.32
* 4th-quarter EPS 97 cents vs 62 cents last year
By Garima Goel
Feb 18 (Reuters) - Duke Energy Corp, the largest U.S. power company, forecast full-year earnings above analysts' estimates as it gets the full benefit of recent rate increases.
Regulators in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida approved the company's request to raise utility rates from September and October.
"Our rate increases are all in effect, so (in) 2014 we will be experiencing a full year of these rate increases..." Chief Executive Lynn Good said in an interview.
The rate increases also helped the company report a better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit.
Duke, which forecast annual earnings growth of between 4 percent and 6 percent through 2016, said it expected adjusted earnings of $4.45-$4.60 per share for the year.
Analysts on average were expecting earnings of $4.32 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Earnings rose to 97 cents per share in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, from 62 cents per share a year earlier.
The quarter was also helped by cost savings, including those from Duke's $18 billion buyout of rival Progress Energy in July 2012, which created the largest U.S. power company.
Excluding one-time items, Duke earned $1 in the quarter, above analysts' estimates of 95 cents.
Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke has a capacity to generate 57,700 megawatts and supplies to 7.2 million customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, according to its website.
TEPID SALES GROWTH
Duke sales would grow only about 0.5 to 1 percent over the next two years as a slow-growing U.S. economy and improved energy efficiency weigh on power demand, CEO Good said.
Sales grew by 0.6 percent in 2013, she said.
"We have consistently grown from the economic downturn in 2008-2009 but...following recession in the U.S, the snap back for growth has been less."
Wholesale power prices have been low due to weak industrial demand and use of cheap natural gas to generate electricity.
Duke said on Monday that it is looking to sell its Midwest commercial generation business, including stakes in 13 merchant power plants, which sell electricity on the wholesale market.
The decision to sell the business comes after Ohio regulators rejected Duke's request for a $729 million rate increase last week.
The commercial power generation business reported a loss in the fourth quarter but Duke said the loss did not "substantially affect earnings."
Duke shares were up 1.3 percent at $72.37 in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday.