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Southern Co. 4th quarter earnings up 8 percent

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ATLANTA (AP) — Southern Co. earnings rose 8 percent in the fourth quarter as the economy in the Southeast improved and seasonal weather returned closer to normal, encouraging customers to use electricity, the utility said Wednesday.

Earnings rose to $414 million during the last three months of 2013, compared to $383 million a year earlier. The Atlanta-based utility released its earnings after publicly writing off $25 million in after-tax charges for the rising cost of building a coal gasification plant in Mississippi.

The company reported earnings of 47 cents per share, up from 44 cents per share last year. Excluding certain items, Southern Co. said it earned 48 cents per share. That beat Wall Street estimates by 2 cents.

Total revenue for the quarter rose 6 percent to $3.93 billion.

"We continued to raise the bar while experiencing one of the mildest summers in the past 20 years, the highest rainfall in nearly 100 years and slower-than-expected economic growth, especially during the first half of the year," Southern Co. CEO Thomas Fanning said in a written statement.

Southern Co. earnings for the year fell to $1.64 billion in 2013, down from $2.35 billion a year earlier. The utility wrote off $729 million in losses absorbed while building a coal gasification plant in Mississippi that is designed to recapture much of the carbon dioxide created when generating electricity. The plant was originally supposed to cost $2.8 billion, but the bills for the plant and a nearby mine have now jumped to about $5 billion.

A mild and wet summer also discouraged electricity sales by allowing customers to turn down their air conditioning. Fanning said the utility saw stronger economic growth during the second half of 2013, particularly in industrial activity and improvement in the housing markets.

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