UPDATE 2-Laclede to double customers in $1 bln deal with Energy Transfer

Mon Dec 17, 2012 12:22pm EST
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* Over 91 percent of earnings from regulated business - Laclede

* Acquisition to be neutral to EPS in year after close - Laclede

By Swetha Gopinath

Dec 17 (Reuters) - Natural gas distributor Laclede Group Inc is buying two utilities from Energy Transfer Equity LP for $1 billion, doubling its customer numbers and boosting its exposure to more stable state-regulated income.

More than 91 percent of Laclede's earnings will come from rate-regulated business after the acquisition of Missouri Gas Energy and New England Gas Co, owned by Energy Transfer's affiliate, Southern Union Co.

About 68 percent of Laclede's operating revenue of $1.12 billion came from its regulated gas distribution business in the year ended Sept. 30.

"With lower ... prices, more and more customers are interested in using natural gas," Chief Executive Suzanne Sitherwood told Reuters. "The other emerging market that is taking place is with natural gas vehicles."

Gas prices have fallen sharply from their peak of more than $13 per million metric British thermal unit (mmBtu) to about $3 now due to vast supplies from shale fields in North America.

This has prompted increased use of gas for heating and power generation. Westport Innovations Inc, General Motors Co , Caterpillar Inc and Ford Motor Co are some of the companies developing technologies to drive the use of the fuel in vehicles.   Continued...