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Duke Energy Earnings Fall After Gas Spin Off

Power company Duke Energy posted a 30 percent decline in fourth-quarter net income after spinning off its natural gas unit but said continuing earnings rose on business improvements across the board.

Net income fell to $271 million, or 21 cents per share, from $387 million, or 31 cents, a year earlier when it had a special gain of 8 cents per share. Near-quarter results were
impacted by discontinued operations.

Duke spun off its natural gas unit, now trading as Spectra Energy, to shareholders in January 2007.

Duke earned 27 cents per share from continuing operations compared with 23 cents in the year-ago period. On that basis, analysts on average had expected the company to earn 24 cents per share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Fourth-quarter revenue rose 7.4 percent to $3.03 billion, the company said.

"A very solid quarter for us," Chief Financial Officer David Hauser told Reuters, adding, "All of our business units performed well."

Earnings were driven by favorable weather, timing on fuel recovery and continued good results from its Latin America operations, according to Hauser.

The company said it set a 2008 earnings target of $1.27 per share. It also expects earnings growth of 5 to 7 percent through 2012.

The average forecast of analysts is $1.26 per share for 2008, according to Reuters Estimates.

Duke, one of the largest electric power companies in the United States, supplies and delivers energy to 3.9 million customers. It has nearly 37,000 megawatts of electric generation capacity in the Midwest and the Carolinas as well as natural gas distribution services in Ohio and Kentucky.

Duke shares were down more than 1 percent on the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday. In comparison, the broader Standard and Poor's utility index has fallen about 1.6 percent.

In the past year, shares of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke have fallen more than 3 percent as of Monday's close, underperforming the utility index's gain of about 10 percent
during the same period. The utility index posted a life-time high last December, boosted by falling interest rates and a flight to defensive shares.