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At TECO Energy annual meeting, mood optimistic as shares hit 52-week high

NOTE: This has been updated from an earlier posting this morning. One of Tampa's foundation corporations, TECO Energy, held its annual shareholders meeting this morning after coming off a quarterly report Tuesday of lower earnings. A big reason for that decline was the severe winter weather last year, when demand for electric heating was high.

TECO Energy, parent of Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas among other units, saw its first-quarter profit fall 7.4 percent as revenue in all its major segments slumped from the prior year, which was helped by exceptionally cold weather. The company's Tampa Electric segment posted 34 percent lower profit as retail sales decreased 12 percent. Coal earnings fell 51 percent on flat sales, while earnings slid 18 percent in the Peoples Gas unit after sales slumped 20 percent.

The results, say this Wall Street Journal story, "sharply missed Wall Street expectations" and probably do not set the stage as TECO hoped for its annual meeting at 11 a.m. this morning in Tampa. Here's is TECO's full corporate news release on its quarterly performance.

TECO spokesman Rick Morera, commenting on today's annual meeting, called the mood "very positive and upbeat." It is interesting, he said to me via email, that "despite the WSJ story our stock price hit a 52-week high this morning. Another item of note is that we have now seen six consecutive quarters of customer growth at Tampa Electric and five quarters at Peoples Gas."

As they do each quarter, TECO CEO John Ramil (photo, right) and CFO Sandy Callahan spoke to analysts about the company's performance and what they see happening in the area economy. Listen to the conference call here, but here's a key point:

* TECO was more bulish this year than last, despite the weaker first quarter. Last year's conference call expressed concerns about Florida's weak housing recovery. This year, Callahan cited improved sales activity, some selective signs of of single family construction in subdivisions which have seen little recent activity, and an unemployment rate in Hillsborough County -- Tamp Electric's chief service territory -- how falling to 10, 7 percent, finally lower than the state's jobless rate.

According to TECO's proxy statement (dated 3/16/11), which outlines compensation of the company's top executives, the top earner in 2010 was former CEO (now board chairman) Sherrill Hudson who received total compensation of just under $3 million. Ramil, appointed CEO last summer, received just under $2.8 million.

John Ramil photo by Daniel Wallace of the St. Petersburg Times.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times