Unitil on track for stronger 2011

Hampton-based Unitil Corp. posted a net loss of $1.6 million, or 15 cents a share, in its third quarter, thanks to expensing $2 million in costs due to the ice storm in 2008. But, according to the company’s earnings report released Thursday, gas sales are up considerably, and the company is still on track to make more money this year than last.Thus far, Unitil has posted a net income of $6.3 million, or 58 cents a share, for the first three quarters, compared to $4.3 million at this point in 2010.The utility usually hasn’t done as well in the third quarter since it diversified into gas, which sells better during the winter. In addition, the long-term growth trend has been away from electricity sales toward gas.Discounting the weather, Unitil said, gas therms sales rose by 8.6 percent so far this year. Meanwhile, kilowatt-hours sales have been relatively stagnant, up only by a percentage point during the last nine months.The $2 million ice storm expense is part of a Massachusetts rate case relating to the 2008 storm, which left thousands without electricity for days, some for weeks.As part of the case, the company will get a $7 million revenue increase in higher gas and electric rates. That, coupled with the onset of winter, should put a strong economic finish on the year, the company said.”The two primary highlights from the third quarter are the final resolution of all regulatory issues regarding the 2008 ice storm and the continued strong increase in gas sales”, said Robert G. Schoenberger, Unitil’s chairman and CEO.This quarter the company declared a dividend of 34.5 cents a share for an annual rate of $1.38 a share. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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