Duke Said to Name Progress’s Johnson CEO After Planned Merger

Duke Energy Corp. may announce as soon as today an agreement to buy Progress Energy Inc. and put Progress Chief Executive Officer William Johnson in charge of what will be the largest U.S. utility, said three people with knowledge of the matter.

Duke, led by Chairman and CEO James Rogers, is nearing an accord for a stock merger valuing Raleigh, North Carolina-based Progress at slightly more than its Jan. 7 market value of $13.1 billion, people with knowledge of the matter said. Rogers, 63, plans to hand off the Duke CEO job to Johnson, 57, and to remain on the board, the three people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

Rogers has been a leading voice for the power sector in the U.S. climate legislation debate, supporting efforts last year for a federal cap-and-trade law that would also protect the financial interests of utilities.

Johnson joined Progress Energy in 1992 and rose to the position of chairman and chief executive in October 2007, according to the company’s website. He serves on the executive committees of the Edison Electric Institute and the Nuclear Energy Institute, both Washington-based industry lobbying groups.

Tom Williams, a spokesman for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke, declined to comment. Mike Hughes, a spokesman for Progress Energy, also declined to comment.

Duke’s shares rose 5 cents to $17.79 on Jan. 7, giving it a market value of about $23.6 billion and an enterprise value, including net debt, of $39.4 billion. Combining with Progress would create a company with an enterprise value of about $64 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, eclipsing Atlanta-based Southern Co.

Succession Plan

In December, Duke’s top utility executive resigned after e-mail exchanges with an Indiana regulator surfaced as part of an investigation into alleged improper ties between the company and the state agency.

James L. Turner, 51, the former president of Duke’s U.S. franchised electric and gas business, the company’s largest unit, would have been “a potential candidate” to succeed Rogers, said Paul Patterson, an analyst at Glenrock Associates LLC in New York, in a telephone interview yesterday.

Rogers’ contract with Duke expires on Dec. 31, 2013, Williams said.

“The closer a chief executive officer gets to retirement, the more likely a merger or acquisition is going to happen,” said Patterson, who owns shares of Progress and doesn’t own shares of Duke.

Cost Savings

Rogers is seeking to expand his regulated utility business after losing to PPL Corp. in a bidding contest last year for E.ON AG’s Kentucky electricity distributors. A deal for Progress would add units operating near his service territories in North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as an electric distribution unit in Florida. Progress also owns more than 22,000 megawatts of power generation capacity, according to its website.

“There should be substantial cost savings with the companies being so close to each other,” Patterson said.

Duke and Progress will need to gain state regulatory approval in particular where their territories overlap in North and South Carolina, Angie Storozynski, an analyst at Macquarie Capital USA Inc. in New York, said in a telephone interview yesterday. Progress has “good relationships” with regulators in those states, which might help smooth completion of a potential tie-up, Storozynski said.

Progress is attractive because it operates regulated utilities that offer steady returns and are shielded from power price fluctuations, Storozynski said.

Power Deals

Acquisitions in the U.S. power industry have picked up as companies seek to add customers to counter falling prices. Utilities expanding through mergers can also spread the cost of complying with environmental regulations or building new power plants across more customers. Regulators generally allow utilities to bill consumers for reimbursement of those costs.

Duke supplies energy to about 4 million utility customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, according to its website. It has about 35,000 megawatts of electric generation capacity. Progress has about 3.1 million utility customers, according to its website.

PPL bought the E.ON utilities for $6.7 billion last year. PPL outbid Duke in an auction for the unit, people with knowledge of the matter said at the time.

The average market premium for a U.S. utility since 2009 was about 23 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The median multiple paid to the last 12 months’ earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization was about 8.6, the data show.

Progress traded at a multiple of 8.5 times Ebitda as of Jan. 7. The shares reached a high of $52.55 in May 2007.

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