By Mara Der Hovanesian
Entergy (ETR) is the anti-Enron: The No. 2 provider of electricity from nuclear power is making profits. Analysts say its energy marketing and trading businesses are above board. While the Enron debacle brought down the industry, the problems there and at Williams funneled business Entergy's way. Its fourth-quarter profits, announced on Feb. 4, more than tripled, to $77.4 million, or 34 cents a share, beating Thomson First Call's estimate of 26 cents. Full-year earnings of $3.81 beat forecasts, too. The company, which also supplies natural gas, reiterated its 2003 earnings forecast of $3.75 to $3.95, including its decision to start expensing stock options.
Rate hikes, a strong credit rating, a good mix of businesses in unregulated nuclear power and gas pipelines, plus a record for smart acquisitions, put Entergy on UBS Warburg's buy list. "The company has a good strategy that has resulted in strong performance," says analyst Laura Blanco, who sees the price rising to 53 in a year, up from 45 now. "The trading business may have collapsed for others, but these guys are the survivors." Raymond Niles of Salomon Smith Barney, which has done work for Entergy in the past year, rates the stock "outperform," vs. First Call's "hold" consensus. Gene Marcial is on vacation.