Wholesale Services
Our wholesale services segment consists primarily of Sequent, our subsidiary involved in asset management and optimization, storage, transportation, producer and peaking services and wholesale marketing. Sequent seeks asset optimization opportunities, which focus on capturing the value fromidle or underutilized assets, typically by participating in transactions to take advantage of pricing differences between varying markets and time horizons within the natural gassupply, storage and transportation markets to generate earnings. These activities are generally referred to as arbitrage opportunities.

Sequent’s profitability is driven by volatility in the natural gas marketplace. Volatility arises from a number of factors such as weather fluctuations or the change in supply of, or demand for, natural gas in different regions of the country. Sequent seeks to capture value from the price disparity across geographic locations and various time horizons (location and seasonal spreads). In doing so, Sequent also seeks to mitigate the risks associated with this volatility and protect its margin through a variety of risk management and economic hedging activities.

Sequent provides its customers with natural gas from the major producing regions and market hubs in the U.S. and Canada. Sequent acquires transportation and storage capacity to meet its delivery requirements and customer obligations in the marketplace. Sequent’s customers benefit from its logistics expertise and ability to deliver natural gas at prices that are advantageous relative to other alternatives available to its customers.

Storage inventory outlook Sequent’s expected natural gas withdrawals are presented in the following table along with the operating revenues expected at the time of withdrawal. Sequent’s expected operating revenues are net of the estimated impact of regulatory profit sharing under our asset management agreements and reflect the amounts that are realizable in future periods based on the inventory withdrawal schedule and forward natural gas prices at December 31, 2009. A portion of Sequent’s storage inventory is economically hedged with futures contracts, which results in realization of a substantially fixed margin, timing notwithstanding.

 
Withdrawal schedule (in Bcf) – from reservoir storage (WACOG $3.55)
Expected operating revenues (in millions)
2010
First quarter
16
$24
Second quarter
2
4
Third quarter
1
2
Total
19
$30


Expected operating revenues will change in the future as Sequent injects natural gas into inventory, adjusts its injection and withdrawal plans in response to changes in market conditions in future months and as forward NYMEX prices fluctuate. For more information on Sequent’s energy marketing and risk management activities, see Item 7A, “Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk – Commodity Price Risk.”

Competition Sequent competes for asset management, longterm supply and seasonal peaking service contracts with other energy wholesalers, often through a competitive bidding process.

AssetManagement Transactions Sequent’s asset management customers include affiliated and nonaffiliated utilities, municipal utilities, power generators and large industrial customers. These customers, due to seasonal demand or levels of activity, may have contracts for transportation and storage capacity which exceed their actual requirements. Sequent enters into structured agreements with these customers, whereby Sequent, on behalf of the customers, optimizes the transportation and storage capacity during periods when customers do not use it for their own needs. Sequent may capture incremental operating margin through optimization, and either share margins with the customers or pay them a fixed amount.

Sequent has entered into asset management agreements with our affiliated utilities that include profit sharing mechanisms and fixed fee payments that require Sequent to make aggregate annual minimum payments of $14 million. These agreements are scheduled to expire over the next three years. The following table provides payments made under these agreements during the last three years.

In millions
2009

Profit sharing / fee payments 2008

2007
Atlanta Gas Light
$16
$ 9
$ 9
Elizabethtown Gas
11
5
6
Chattanooga Gas
4
4
2
Virginia Natural Gas
7
2
7
Florida City Gas
1
1
1
Total
$39
$21
$25


Transportation Transactions Sequent contracts for natural gas transportation capacity and participates in transactions that manage the natural gas commodity and transportation costs in an attempt to achieve the lowest cost to serve its various markets. Sequent seeks to optimize this process on a daily basis as market conditions change by evaluating all the natural gas supplies, transportation alternatives and markets to which it has access and identifying the lowest-cost alternatives to serve the various markets. This enables Sequent to capture geographic pricing differences across these various markets as delivered natural gas prices change.

As Sequent executes transactions to secure transportation capacity, it often enters into forward financial contracts to hedge its positions and lock-in a margin on future transportation activities. The hedging instruments are derivatives, and Sequent reflects changes in the derivatives’ fair value in its reported operating results in the period of change, which can be in periods prior to actual utilization of the transportation capacity.

Producer Services Sequent’s producer services business primarily focuses on aggregating natural gas supply from various small and medium-sized producers located throughout the natural gas production areas of the United States. Sequent provides producers with certain logistical and risk management services that offer them attractive options to move their supply into the pipeline grid.

Natural Gas Storage Transactions Sequent purchases natural gas for storage when the current market price it pays plus the cost for transportation and storage is less than the market price it anticipates it could receive in the future. Sequent attempts tomitigate substantially all of the commodity price risk associated with its storage portfolio and uses derivative instruments to reduce the risk associated with future changes in the price of natural gas. Sequent sells NYMEX futures contracts or OTC derivatives in forward months to substantially lock in the operating revenue it will ultimately realize when the stored gas is actually sold.

We view Sequent’s trading margins from two perspectives. First, we base our commercial decisions on economic value, which is defined as the locked-in operating revenue to be realized at the time the physical gas is withdrawn from storage and sold and the derivative instrument used to economically hedge natural gas price risk on that physical storage is settled. Second is the GAAP reported value both in periods prior to and in the period of physical withdrawal and sale of inventory. The GAAP amount is affected by the process of accounting for the financial hedging instruments in interim periods at fair value between the period when the natural gas is injected into storage and when it is ultimately withdrawn and the derivative financial instruments are settled. The change in the fair value of the hedging instruments is recognized in earnings in the period of change and is recorded as unrealized gains or losses. The actual value, less any interim recognition of gains or losses on hedges and adjustments for LOCOM, is realized when the natural gas is delivered to its ultimate customer.

Sequent accounts for natural gas stored in inventory differently than the derivatives Sequent uses to mitigate the commodity price risk associated with its storage portfolio. The natural gas that Sequent purchases and injects into storage is accounted for at the lower of average cost or current market value. The derivatives that Sequent uses to mitigate commodity price risk are accounted for at fair value and marked to market each period. This difference in accounting treatment can result in volatility in Sequent’s reported results, even though the expected operating revenue is essentially unchanged from the date the transactions were initiated. These accounting differences also affect the comparability of Sequent’s period-over-period results, since changes in forward NYMEX prices do not increase and decrease on a consistent basis from year to year.

Park and Loan Transactions Sequent routinely enters into park and loan transactions with various pipelines, which allow Sequent to park gas on, or borrow gas from, the pipeline in one period and reclaim gas from, or repay gas to, the pipeline in a subsequent period. The economics of these transactions are evaluated and price risks are managed in much the same way as traditional reservoir and salt dome storage transactions are evaluated and managed.

Sequent enters into forward NYMEX contracts to hedge its park and loan transactions. While the hedging instruments mitigate the price risk associated with the delivery and receipt of natural gas, they can also result in volatility in Sequent’s reported results during the period before the initial delivery or receipt of natural gas. During this period, if the forward NYMEX prices in the months of delivery and receipt do not change in equal amounts, Sequent will report a net unrealized gain or loss on the hedges. Once gas is delivered under the park and loan transaction, earnings volatility is essentially eliminated since the park and loan transaction contains an embedded derivative, which is also marked to market and would substantially offset subsequent changes in value of the forward NYMEX contracts used to hedge the park and loan transaction.