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Constellation loses $1.4B on nuclear write-downs

Constellation Energy Group had a net loss of $1.4 billion in the third quarter, due mainly to write-downs related to its nuclear power joint ventures including UniStar Nuclear Energy LLC.

Not including the nuclear joint venture and other costs, Constellation said it would have earned 48 cents per share for the third quarter of 2010, 16 cents less than the average estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. In the third quarter of 2009, Constellation had adjusted earnings of $1.23 per share.

“During the third quarter, we continued to see solid results from our core businesses and we advanced on several key acquisitions and objectives,” Mayo A. Shattuck III, Constellation CEO and president, said in a statement Friday. “Our NewEnergy platform performed well, as our customer-facing power and gas businesses exceeded many of our plan metrics in an environment of low commodity prices and heightened competition.

Profit was reduced 14 cents by quarterly adjustments to the value of contracts used to lock in the prices and cost of electricity and gas Constellation sells, Chief Financial Officer Jonathan W. Thayer said Friday on an investor call.

“Power prices are down, hedged power prices are down, and they’d sold 50 percent of their nuclear generation,” Angie Storozynski, a New York-based analyst for Macquarie Capital USA Inc., said in a telephone interview. She rates the stock “outperform” and doesn’t own any shares.

Slumping power prices slashed the value of Constellation’s stake in three nuclear plants co-owned with Paris-based Electricite de France by $1.35 billion, or $6.70 a share, the company said. Forecasts of low future power prices prompted the company to withdraw from talks on a government loan guarantee for a new reactor in Maryland. EDF agreed last week to pay about $249 million for Constellation’s stake in the companies’ nuclear venture.

A write-down of that venture, UniStar Nuclear Energy, reduced results for the quarter by $86.3 million, or 43 cents, and the company also wrote down stakes in three coal-burning power plants in California by $32.5 million. It had a 12 cent per-share gain on the sale of its stake in a geothermal plant in California to partner Ormat Technologies Inc. for $72.5 million.

“[Last] week, we were pleased to announce a comprehensive agreement with EDF Group on terms that are very favorable to our company,” said Shattuck. “This agreement resolves the contractual put option and transfers full ownership of the UniStar nuclear development business to EDF.

Constellation agreed to transfer its half of UniStar as well as its interest in potential nuclear power development at sites at Calvert Cliffs, Nine Mile Point and R.E. Ginna, in New York to EDF for $249 million in cash and stock. The deal also ended an impasse over a “put option” where Constellation could have forced EDF to buy 12 of its coal-fired power plants for up to $2 billion.

The company also affirmed earnings guidance of $3.05 to $3.45 a share for the rest of 2010. The average estimate is $3.23 among 11 analysts.

Bloomberg contributed to this story