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Southern cuts costs, boosts 4Q profit

ATLANTA (AP) -- Southern Co. said Wednesday that fourth-quarter profit rose 47 percent as the electric utility operator overcame flat revenue by cutting spending on non-fuel operations and maintenance.

The earnings per share topped analysts' expectations, although the revenue was disappointing.

Fourth-quarter net income was $383 million, or 44 cents per share, compared with $261 million, or 30 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenue was flat with a year ago at $3.70 billion.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected the company to earn 39 cents per share on revenue of $4.56 billion.

While quarterly revenue rose $7 million, the company slashed operating expenses by $218 million from a year earlier.

For all of 2012, sales to retail customers, as measured in kilowatt hours, fell 2.3 percent, which the company blamed on mild weather during the year. The full-year decline in sales to residential customers was 5.4 percent.

Southern has 4.4 million customers in a region that includes most of Georgia and Alabama and parts of Florida and Mississippi.

The shares rose 13 cents to $44.75 in morning trading. They have traded within a tight range over the past year, from a high of $48.59 in July to a low of $41.75 in November.