Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis
of Financial Condition and Results of Operations
The distribution operations segment is the largest component of our business and is subject to regulation and oversight by agencies in each of the six states we serve. These agencies approve natural gas rates designed to provide us the opportunity to generate revenues to recover the cost of natural gas delivered to our customers and our fixed and variable costs such as depreciation, interest, maintenance and overhead costs, and to earn a reasonable return for our shareholders. With the exception of Atlanta Gas Light, our largest utility, the earnings of our regulated utilities can be affected by customer consumption patterns that are a function of weather conditions, price levels for natural gas and general economic conditions that may impact our customers’ ability to pay for gas consumed. Various mechanisms exist that limit our exposure to weather changes within typical ranges in all of our jurisdictions.
Our retail energy operations segment, which consists of SouthStar, also is weather sensitive and uses a variety of hedging strategies, such as weather derivative instruments and other risk management tools, to mitigate potential weather impacts. Our Sequent subsidiary within our wholesale services segment is temperature insensitive, but generally has greater opportunity to capture operating margin due to price volatility as a result of extreme weather. Our energy investments segment’s primary activity is our natural gas storage business, which develops, acquires and operates high-deliverability salt-dome storage assets in the Gulf Coast region of the United States. While this business also can generate additional revenue during times of peak market demand for natural gas storage services, the majority of our storage services are covered under medium to long-term contracts at a fixed market rate.