Entergy Withdraws Forecast Amid Katrina Damage

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Entergy Corp. (ETR), which provides electricity to the New Orleans area, Tuesday withdrew its earnings forecast for this year and 2006 on widespread damage to its service area from Hurricane Katrina (search).

But the utility said it has enough liquidity, between cash on hand and a $2 billion revolving line of credit, to meet obligations and fund restoration efforts.

Entergy said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (search) that it could not affirm its previously disclosed earnings expectations for 2005 and 2006.

The company now expent for 2006. It said it still hopes to deliver 5 percent to 6 percent growth over the long term.

Entergy said its $1.5 billion share repurchase program remains in place, but it may delay the timing of the stock buybacks.

The company also said it was already in discussions with regulators and legislators in order to recover costs and lost revenue from the storm in a more effective manner than would be available under current procedures.

"These kinds of things generally are temporary — you should get regulatory relief for a lot of this," said Natexis Bleichroeder analyst Gordon Howald. "This happens to be one of the strongest utilities from a balance sheet perspective out there. If it had to happen to someone it's probably better that it happened to a company as financially strong as Entergy."

Shares of Entergy rose 10 cents to $75.65 in New York Stock Exchange (search) trade. In early August, the stock hit an all-time high of $79.22.

The company had restored power to about 635,000 of its customers as of Tuesday morning — more than a week after Katrina blew through Louisiana and Mississippi to leave about 1.1 million of its customers in the dark. It has said progress will be slow due to flooding, corrosion and other dangers in and around New Orleans.

Entergy had to set up a temporary headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi, as it is unable to operate out of its main offices in New Orleans.

Other utilities that serve the affected areas have also made progress in restoring power.

Mississippi Power, a unit of Southern Co., said it had restored power to more than 74,000 customers as of Monday and expects to restore power to all of its customers that can receive power by Sunday. All 195,000 of its customers lost power after the hurricane.

Cleco Corp. estimates it will have power restored to about 80 percent of customers that can take electricity within two weeks, and expects to be able to restore power to all of its customers homes that can accept electricity within four to five weeks.

As of late Monday, Cleco said it had restored power to 8,600 of its 80,000 customers.