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Anxious time again for TECO investors

It's time again for TECO Energy investors to reach for the antacid: The company is scheduled to report its year-end financial results Thursday.

The past 12 months have been a strange time for the Tampa utility and those who follow it. Despite the company's plans to focus again on its regulated utility units, not much has changed fundamentally at TECO since its stock nosedived in 2002 and early 2003 over concern about its debt-saddled unregulated wholesale power business.

Yet TECO's shares are up more than 50 percent from their 52-week low of $9.47 set March 13, buoyed by impressive gains in the broader market and comments by TECO executives in October that the company could withstand a write-down of a large chunk of its investments in wholesale power plants without violating lending agreements with creditors.

The Thomson Financial/First Call consensus of Wall Street analysts expect TECO to report fourth-quarter net income of 12 cents a share, less than half the 29 cents it reported a year earlier. But don't put too much faith in that estimate. When the company reported third-quarter earnings in October, the consensus was that net income would come in at about 38 cents a share. The actual figure was only 8 cents, down sharply from 76 cents a year earlier.

TECO also may finally reveal this week what accommodation it has reached with the creditors of its two largest wholesale plants in Arizona and Arkansas. The creditors had agreed to suspend until Sunday a provision in their loan covenant, helping the company to avert default.

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