Atmos Energy is the largest gas utilities company in the U.S. The company operates gas utilities in 12 states: Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Colorado, Kansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Virginia, though it has more customers in Texas than in the other 11 states combined. In total, the company has over 3 million customers.
As a utilities operator, Atmos' businesses are subject to government price regulations, which vary from state to state. These regulations put a ceiling on the price that utilities companies can charge customers, as well as on the returns a company is allowed to gain from its holdings. Regulation is designed to ensure that utilities services are accessible but can still turn a profit, but they don't allow utilities like Atmos to pass cost fluctuations on to consumers as quickly as they occur. Utilities companies can lobby and negotiate with regulators to gain more favorable rules, but unfortunately for Atmos, the company's main operating areas are in Texas, where regulations are strict.
Volatile natural gas costs can make Atmos's margins unpredictable, since the company's costs change while regulations keep prices fixed. The weather also plays a large part in demand for natural gas, which is used for heating, so unseasonable weather patterns can lead to demand fluctuations as well. Fortunately for Atmos, the company operates one of the largest pipelines in Texas, with links to major oil and gas reserves like the Barnett Shale. The production business insulates the company against the effects of good weather and fluctuating gas use on its utilities segment. Atmos doesn't have any real competition in its service areas, but the company competes on a large scale with other utilities companies like AGL Resources.
Atmos energy is a holding company engaged in the transportation, storage, marketing, and distribution of natural gas; its gas utilities business is the largest in the U.S., operating in 12 states and serving over 3.1 million customers.
In 2009, ATO earned a total of $5.0 billion in total revenues. This was a substantial decrease from its 2008 total revenues of $7.2 billion. Despite the decline in total revenues, ATO was still able to increase its net income. Between 2008 and 2009, ATO's net income increased from $180 million in 2008 to $191 million in 2009.
In the past, utilities paid high dividends because stringent government regulation kept them from having much growth potential. This made them very sensitive to short-term interest rates, as higher interest rates made government bonds more attractive as investments; more people investing in government bonds meant less people buying utilities stock, causing shares to fall. Now, however, the combination of deregulation and the diversification of gas utilities into energy trading, generation, and other businesses mean that the companies have greater growth potential and less exposure to interest rate effects. Now, though utilities still pay dividends, these are lower than in the past - because utilities companies now have a chance for strong share growth, so high dividends are no longer necessary to serve shareholder interests.
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Atmos operates in Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Colorado, Kansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Virginia. It is not only a gas utility but also a natural gas marketing, pipeline, and storage company. In the markets it serves, the company has little real competition thanks to the high cost of infrastructure installation; government regulation, however, keeps the company from charging the rates and turning the profits that would otherwise be expected of a monopolist that sells products with inelastic demand. On a larger scale, Atmos competes with other gas utilities like: