Southwest Gas 10-K 2010
Documents found in this filing:
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF
THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2009
Commission File Number 1-7850
SOUTHWEST GAS CORPORATION
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
Registrants telephone number, including area code: (702) 876-7237
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes x No ¨
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act. Yes ¨ No x
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes x No ¨
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically and posted on its corporate Web site, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 229.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit and post such files). Yes ¨ No ¨
Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrants knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or a smaller reporting company. See definitions of large accelerated filer, accelerated filer and smaller reporting company in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act). Yes ¨ No x
Aggregate market value of the voting and non-voting common stock held by nonaffiliates of the registrant:
$994,981,925 as of June 30, 2009
The number of shares outstanding of common stock:
Common Stock, $1 Par Value, 45,228,164 shares as of February 17, 2010
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Southwest Gas Corporation (the Company) was incorporated in March 1931 under the laws of the state of California. The Company is composed of two business segments: natural gas operations (Southwest or the natural gas operations segment) and construction services.
Southwest is engaged in the business of purchasing, distributing, and transporting natural gas in portions of Arizona, Nevada, and California. Southwest is the largest distributor of natural gas in Arizona, selling and transporting natural gas in most of central and southern Arizona, including the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas. Southwest is also the largest distributor of natural gas in Nevada, serving the Las Vegas metropolitan area and northern Nevada. In addition, Southwest distributes and transports natural gas in portions of California, including the Lake Tahoe area and the high desert and mountain areas in San Bernardino County.
NPL Construction Co. (NPL or the construction services segment), a wholly owned subsidiary, is a full-service underground piping contractor that provides utility companies with trenching and installation, replacement, and maintenance services for energy distribution systems.
Financial information concerning the Companys business segments is included in Note 13 of the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements, which is included in the 2009 Annual Report to Shareholders and is incorporated herein by reference.
The Company maintains a website (www.swgas.com) for the benefit of shareholders, investors, customers, and other interested parties. The Company makes its annual report on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, and all amendments to those reports available, free of charge, through its website as soon as reasonably practicable after such material is electronically filed with, or furnished to, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Companys Corporate Governance Guidelines, Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, and charters of the nominating and corporate governance, audit, and compensation committees of the board of directors are also available on the website and are available in print by request.
Southwest is subject to regulation by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN), and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). These commissions regulate public utility rates, practices, facilities, and service territories in their respective states. The CPUC also regulates the issuance of all securities by the Company, with the exception of short-term borrowings. Certain accounting practices, transmission facilities, and rates are subject to regulation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). NPL is not regulated by the state utilities commissions in any of its operating areas.
As of December 31, 2009, Southwest purchased and distributed or transported natural gas to 1,824,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers in geographically diverse portions of Arizona, Nevada, and California. The southwestern United States has historically been one of the highest growth regions of the country. However, the customer growth levels experienced in recent years have greatly diminished due to the overall slowdown in the new housing market and idle/vacant homes due to foreclosures and challenging economic conditions. First-time meter sets of 18,000 were substantially offset by temporarily vacated homes. There were 5,000 net new customers added to the system during 2009, an increase of less than one-half of one percent. Given the current housing and economic downturn, management expects customer growth will be one percent or less in the near term. Management cannot predict the timing of when currently idle and vacant homes will return to service, or when customer growth levels will improve, but it is not likely to occur in the near term.
The table below lists the percentage of operating margin (operating revenues less net cost of gas) by major customer class for the years indicated:
Southwest is not dependent on any one or a few customers such that the loss of any one or several would have a significant adverse impact on earnings or cash flows.
Transportation of customer-secured gas to end-users accounted for 47 percent of total system throughput in 2009. Customers who utilized this service transported 104 million dekatherms in 2009, 116 million dekatherms in 2008, and 113 million dekatherms in 2007. Although these volumes are significant, these customers provided a much smaller proportionate share of operating margin.
The demand for natural gas is seasonal. Variability in weather from normal temperatures can materially impact results of operations. It is the opinion of management that comparisons of earnings for interim periods do not reliably reflect overall trends and changes in operations. Also, earnings for interim periods can be significantly affected by the timing of general rate relief.
Rates and Regulation
Rates that Southwest is authorized to charge its distribution system customers are determined by the ACC, PUCN, and CPUC in general rate cases and are derived using rate base, cost of service, and cost of capital experienced in a historical test year, as adjusted in Arizona and Nevada, and projected for a future test year in California. The FERC regulates the northern Nevada transmission and liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facilities of Paiute Pipeline Company (Paiute), a wholly owned subsidiary, and the rates it charges for transportation of gas directly to certain end-users and to various local distribution companies (LDCs). The LDCs transporting on the Paiute system are: NV Energy (formerly Sierra Pacific Power Company) (serving Reno and Sparks, Nevada) and Southwest Gas Corporation (serving Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and North Lake Tahoe, California and various locations throughout northern Nevada).
Rates charged to customers vary according to customer class and rate jurisdiction and are set at levels that are intended to allow for the recovery of all prudently incurred costs, including a return on rate base sufficient to pay interest on debt and subordinated debentures, and a reasonable return on common equity. Rate base consists generally of the original cost of utility plant in service, plus certain other assets such as working capital and inventories, less accumulated depreciation on utility plant in service, net deferred income tax liabilities, and certain other deductions.
In California, CPUC regulations allow Southwest to separate or decouple the recovery of operating margin from natural gas consumption. In November 2009, the PUCN authorized a decoupled rate structure that will help stabilize annual operating margin in Nevada.
Rate schedules in all service areas contain deferred energy or purchased gas adjustment provisions, which allow Southwest to file for rate adjustments as the cost of purchased gas changes. Deferred energy and purchased gas adjustment (collectively PGA) rate changes affect cash flows, but have no direct impact on profit margin. Filings to change rates in accordance with PGA clauses are subject to audit by the appropriate state regulatory commission staff.
Information with respect to recent general rate cases and PGA filings is included in the Rates and Regulatory Proceedings section of Managements Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) in the 2009 Annual Report to Shareholders.
The table below lists recent docketed general rate filings and the status of such filing within each ratemaking area:
Demand for Natural Gas
Deliveries of natural gas by Southwest are made under a priority system established by state regulatory commissions. The priority system is intended to ensure that the gas requirements of higher-priority customers, primarily residential customers and other customers who use 500 therms or less of gas per day, are fully satisfied on a daily basis before lower-priority customers, primarily electric utility and large industrial customers able to use alternative fuels, are provided any quantity of gas or capacity.
Demand for natural gas is greatly affected by temperature. On cold days, use of gas by residential and commercial customers can be six times greater than on warm days because of increased use of gas for space heating. To fully satisfy this increased high-priority demand, gas is withdrawn from storage in certain service areas, or peaking supplies are purchased from suppliers. If necessary, service to interruptible lower-priority customers may be curtailed to provide the needed delivery system capacity. No weather-related curtailments occurred during the latest peak heating season. Southwest maintains no significant backlog on its orders for gas service.
Natural Gas Supply
Southwest is responsible for acquiring (purchasing) and arranging delivery of (transporting via interstate pipelines) natural gas to its system for all sales customers.
The primary objective of Southwest in acquiring gas supply is to ensure that adequate supplies of natural gas are available from reliable sources at the best cost. Gas is acquired from a wide variety of sources and a mix of purchase provisions, including spot market purchases and firm supplies with a variety of terms. During 2009, Southwest acquired natural gas from 47 suppliers. Southwest regularly monitors the number of suppliers, their quality, and their relative contribution to the overall customer supply portfolio. New suppliers are contracted whenever possible, and solicitations for supplies are extended to the largest practicable list of suppliers. Competitive pricing, flexibility in meeting Southwests requirements, and aggressive participation by suppliers who have demonstrated reliability of service are key to their inclusion in the annual portfolio mix. The goal of this practice is to mitigate the risk of nonperformance by any one supplier and ensure competitive prices for customer supplies.
Balancing reliable supply assurances with the associated costs results in a continually changing mix of purchase provisions within the supply portfolios. To address the unique requirements of its various market areas, Southwest assembles and administers a separate natural gas supply portfolio for each of its jurisdictional areas. Firm and spot market natural gas purchases are made in a competitive bid environment.
To mitigate customer exposure to market price volatility, Southwest seeks to fix the cost of approximately 50 percent of its forecasted annual normal-weather volume requirement, primarily using firm, fixed-price purchasing arrangements that are secured periodically throughout the year. For the 2009/2010 heating season, fixed-price contracts ranged in price from approximately $4 to $10 per dekatherm. Natural gas purchases not covered by fixed-price contracts are made under variable-price contracts with firm quantities and on the spot market. Prices for these contracts are not known until the month of purchase.
The firm, fixed-price arrangements are structured such that a stated volume of gas is required to be scheduled by Southwest and delivered by the supplier. If the gas is not needed by Southwest or cannot be procured by the supplier, the contract provides for fixed or market-based penalties to be paid by the non-performing party.
Beginning in 2008, Southwest incorporated a hedging program utilizing standalone derivative instruments into its price volatility mitigation program. This hedging program is currently utilized in both Arizona and Nevada. The combination of fixed-price contracts and derivative instruments is designed to increase flexibility for Southwest and increase supplier diversification. The costs of such derivative financial instruments are recovered from customers through the PGA mechanisms.
Storage availability can influence the average annual price of gas, as storage allows a company to purchase natural gas in larger quantities during the off-peak season and store it for use in high demand periods when prices may be greater or supplies/capacity tighter. Southwest currently has no storage availability in its Arizona or southern Nevada rate jurisdictions. Limited storage availability exists in southern and northern California and northern Nevada. A contract with Southern California Gas Company is intended for delivery only within Southwests southern California rate jurisdiction. In addition, a contract with Paiute for its LNG facility allows for peaking capability only in northern Nevada and northern California. Gas is purchased for injection during the off-peak period for use in the high demand months, but is limited in its impact on the overall price. Southwest also has interruptible storage contracts with Northwest Pipeline Corporation (NWPL) for the northern Nevada and northern California rate jurisdictions. NWPL has the discretion to limit Southwest's ability to inject or withdraw from this interruptible storage. As such, this storage provides limited operational flexibility to adjust daily flowing supplies to meet demand, as permitted by conditions on NWPL's system, and has limited impact on the overall price of gas supplies.
Gas supplies for the southern system of Southwest (Arizona, southern Nevada, and southern California properties) are primarily obtained from producing regions in Colorado and New Mexico (San Juan basin), Texas (Permian basin), and Rocky Mountain areas. For its northern system (northern Nevada and northern California properties), Southwest primarily obtains gas from Rocky Mountain producing areas and from Canada.
Southwest arranges for transportation of gas to its Arizona, Nevada, and California service territories through the pipeline systems of El Paso Natural Gas Company (El Paso), Kern River Gas Transmission Company (Kern River), Transwestern Pipeline Company (Transwestern), NWPL, Tuscarora Gas Pipeline Company (Tuscarora), Southern California Gas Company, and Paiute. Transwestern completed constructing an additional interstate pipeline in 2009 and is now serving a portion of Southwests Arizona service territory. Supply and pipeline capacity availability on both short- and long-term bases is regularly monitored by Southwest to ensure the reliability of service to its customers. Southwest currently receives firm transportation service, both on a short- and long-term basis, for all of its service territories on the pipeline systems noted above and also has interruptible contracts in place that allow additional capacity to be acquired.
Southwest believes that the current level of contracted firm interstate capacity is sufficient to serve each of its service territories. As the need arises to acquire additional capacity on one of the interstate pipeline transmission systems, primarily due to customer growth, Southwest will continue to consider available options to obtain that capacity, either through the use of firm contracts with a pipeline company or by purchasing capacity on the open market.
Electric utilities are the principal competitors of Southwest for the residential and small commercial markets throughout its service areas. Competition for space heating, general household, and small commercial energy needs generally occurs at the initial installation phase when the customer/builder typically makes the decision as to which type of equipment to install and operate. The customer will generally continue to use the chosen energy source for the life of the equipment. Southwest interfaces directly with the various home builders and commercial property developers in its service territories to ensure that natural gas appliances are considered in new developments and commercial centers. As a result of its efforts, Southwest has experienced continued growth in the new home market among the residential and small commercial customer classes.
Unlike residential and small commercial customers, certain large commercial, industrial, and electric generation customers have the capability to switch to alternative energy sources. To date, Southwest has been successful in retaining most of these customers by setting rates at levels competitive with commercially available alternative energy sources such as electricity, fuel oils, and coal. However, high natural gas prices can impact Southwests ability to retain some of these customers. Overall, management does not anticipate any material adverse impact on operating margin from fuel switching by these large customers.
Southwest competes with interstate transmission pipeline companies, such as El Paso, Kern River, Transwestern and Tuscarora, to provide service to certain large end-users. End-use customers located in proximity to these interstate pipelines pose a potential bypass threat. Southwest attempts to closely monitor each customer situation and provide competitive service in order to retain the customer. Southwest has remained competitive through the use of negotiated
transportation contract rates, special long-term contracts with electric generation and cogeneration customers, and other tariff programs. These competitive response initiatives have mitigated the loss of margin earned from large customers.
Federal, state, and local laws and regulations governing the discharge of materials into the environment have a direct impact upon Southwest. Environmental efforts, with respect to matters such as storm water management, emissions of air pollutants, hazardous material management, protection of endangered species and archeological finds, directly impact the complexity and time required to obtain pipeline rights-of-way and construction permits. However, increased environmental legislation and regulation can also be beneficial to the natural gas industry. Natural gas is one of the most environmentally-friendly fossil fuels currently available; its use can help energy users to comply with stricter environmental air quality standards.
Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued regulations that require the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from large sources and suppliers in the United States in order to facilitate the development of policies and programs to reduce GHGs. Beginning in 2010, the Company will be required to report to the EPA the volumes of natural gas distributed to its customers. The EPA also requires annual reporting from large facilities with combustion emissions exceeding 25,000 tons per year. The Company may be required to submit a GHG emissions report to demonstrate that Southwests and Paiutes facilities do not exceed that threshold. The Company is monitoring other climate legislation which may trigger additional reporting requirements or have financial implications.
At December 31, 2009, the natural gas operations segment had 2,423 regular full-time equivalent employees. Southwest believes it has a good relationship with its employees and that compensation, benefits, and working conditions afforded its employees are comparable to those generally found in the utility industry. No employees are represented by a union.
NPL is a full-service energy services contractor that provides utility companies with trenching and installation, replacement, and maintenance services for energy distribution systems. NPL contracts primarily with LDCs to install, repair, and maintain energy distribution systems from the town border station to the end-user. The primary focus of business operations is main and service replacement as well as new business installations. Construction work varies from relatively small projects to the piping of entire communities. Construction activity is seasonal in most areas. Peak construction periods are the summer and fall months in colder climate areas, such as the Midwest. In the warmer climate areas, such as the southwestern United States, construction continues year round. Construction activity is also cyclical and can be significantly impacted by changes in general and local economic conditions, including interest rates, employment levels, housing market, job growth, equipment resale market, and local and federal tax rates. The continued slowdown in construction activities observed in regional and national markets since 2007 has negatively impacted the amount of work received under existing blanket contracts, the amount of bid work, and the equipment resale market. It is anticipated that challenging economic conditions will continue through 2010 and possibly beyond.
NPL business activities are often concentrated in utility service territories where existing energy lines are scheduled for replacement. An LDC will typically contract with NPL to provide pipe replacement services and new line installations. Contract terms generally specify unit-price or fixed-price arrangements. Unit-price contracts establish prices for all of the various services to be performed during the contract period. These contracts often have annual pricing reviews. During 2009, approximately 95 percent of revenue was earned under unit-price contracts. As of December 31, 2009, no significant backlog existed with respect to outstanding construction contracts.
Materials used by NPL in its construction activities are typically specified, purchased, and supplied by NPLs customers. Construction contracts also contain provisions which make customers generally liable for remediating environmental hazards encountered during the construction process. Such hazards might include digging in an area that was contaminated prior to construction, finding endangered animals, digging in historically significant sites, etc. Otherwise, NPLs operations have minimal environmental impact (dust control, normal waste disposal, handling harmful materials, etc.).
Competition within the industry has traditionally been limited to several regional competitors in what has been a largely fragmented industry. Several national competitors also exist within the industry. NPL currently operates in 17 major markets nationwide. Its customers are the primary LDCs in those markets. During 2009, NPL served 55 major customers, with Southwest accounting for approximately 19 percent of NPL revenues. Four other long-standing customers accounted for approximately 39 percent of revenue.
Employment fluctuates between seasonal construction periods, which are normally heaviest in the summer and fall months. At December 31, 2009, NPL had 2,027 regular full-time equivalent employees. Employment peaked in August 2009 when there were 2,246 employees. Most employees are represented by unions and are covered by collective bargaining agreements, which is typical of the utility construction industry.
Operations are conducted from 17 field locations with corporate headquarters located in Phoenix, Arizona. Buildings are normally leased from third parties. The lease terms are typically five years or less. Field location facilities consist of a small building for repairs and land to store equipment.
NPL is not directly affected by regulations promulgated by the ACC, PUCN, CPUC, or FERC in its construction services. NPL is an unregulated energy services subsidiary of Southwest Gas Corporation. However, because NPL performs work for the regulated natural gas segment of the Company, its construction costs are subject indirectly to prudency reviews just as any other capital work that is performed by third parties or directly by Southwest. However, such prudency reviews would not bring NPL under the regulatory jurisdiction of any of the commissions noted above.
In November 2009, NPL entered into a venture to market natural gas engine-driven heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) technology and products. NPL has a sixty-five percent interest in the entity (IntelliChoice Energy, ICE) and consolidates ICE as a majority owned subsidiary.
Although we are not able to predict all factors that may affect future results, described below (and in Item 7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk of this report) are some of the risk factors we have identified that may have a negative impact on our future financial performance or affect whether we achieve the goals or expectations expressed or implied in any forward-looking statements contained herein. Unless indicated otherwise, references below to we, us, and our should be read to refer to Southwest Gas Corporation and its subsidiaries.
Our liquidity, and in certain circumstances our earnings, may be reduced during periods in which natural gas prices are rising significantly or are more volatile.
Increases in the cost of natural gas may arise from a variety of factors, including weather, changes in demand, the level of production and availability of natural gas, transportation constraints, transportation capacity cost increases, federal and state energy and environmental regulation and legislation, the degree of market liquidity, natural disasters, wars and other catastrophic events, national and worldwide economic and political conditions, the price and availability of alternative fuels, and the success of our strategies in managing price risk.
Rate schedules in each of our service territories contain purchased gas adjustment clauses which permit us to file for rate adjustments to recover increases in the cost of purchased gas. Increases in the cost of purchased gas have no direct impact on our profit margins, but do affect cash flows and can therefore impact the amount of our capital resources. We have used short-term borrowings in the past to temporarily finance increases in purchased gas costs, and we expect to do so during 2010, if the need again arises.
We may file requests for rate increases to cover the rise in the cost of purchased gas. Due to the nature of the regulatory process, there is a risk of a disallowance of full recovery of these costs during any period in which there has been a substantial run-up of these costs or our costs are more volatile. Any disallowance of purchased gas costs would reduce cash flow and earnings.
Our operating results may be adversely impacted by a prolonged economic downturn.
The current housing crisis and economic slowdown in the United States, and particularly in our service areas, have resulted in a marked decline in the new housing market and increases in the inventory of idle/vacant homes. Commercial entities (including restaurants and other service establishments) are also being impacted, resulting in reductions in operations or closures. In addition, a prolonged economic downturn could result in customers voluntarily reducing consumption. If these trends continue, our financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows could be adversely affected.
Governmental policies and regulatory actions can reduce our earnings.
Regulatory commissions set our rates and determine what we can charge for our rate-regulated services. Our ability to obtain timely future rate increases depends on regulatory discretion. Governmental policies and regulatory actions, including those of the ACC, the CPUC, the FERC, and the PUCN relating to allowed rates of return, rate structure, purchased gas and investment recovery, operation and construction of facilities, present or prospective wholesale and retail competition, changes in tax laws and policies, and changes in and compliance with environmental and safety laws and policies, can reduce our earnings. Risks and uncertainties relating to delays in obtaining regulatory approvals, conditions imposed in regulatory approvals, or determinations in regulatory investigations can also impact financial performance. In particular, the timing and amount of rate relief can materially impact results of operations.
We are unable to predict what types of conditions might be imposed on Southwest or what types of determinations might be made in pending or future regulatory proceedings or investigations. We nevertheless believe that it is not uncommon for conditions to be imposed in regulatory proceedings, for Southwest to agree to conditions as part of a settlement of a regulatory proceeding, or for determinations to be made in regulatory investigations that reduce our earnings and liquidity. For example, we may request recovery of a particular operating expense in a general rate case filing that a regulator disallows, negatively impacting our earnings if the expense continues to be incurred.
Our earnings are greatly affected by variations in temperature during the winter heating season.
The demand for natural gas is seasonal and is greatly affected by temperature. On cold days, use of gas by residential and commercial customers can be six times greater than on warm days because of the increased use of gas for space heating. Variability in weather from normal temperatures can materially impact results of operations. This is most pronounced in Arizona, where rates are highly leveraged. Rate design is the primary mechanism available to mitigate weather risk. Workshops were conducted with Arizona regulators in 2009 about a decoupled rate structure, but no final decisions have been made. We were authorized to implement a decoupled rate structure in Nevada effective November 2009 that will help stabilize operating margin by insulating us from the effects of lower usage (including volumes associated with unusual weather). The existing rate structure in our California territories includes a balanced margin mechanism which also has an insulating effect on usage volume variability.
Uncertain economic conditions may affect our ability to finance capital expenditures.
Our ability to finance capital expenditures and other matters will depend upon general economic conditions in the capital markets. Declining interest rates are generally believed to be favorable to utilities while rising interest rates are believed to be unfavorable because of the high capital costs of utilities. In addition, our authorized rate of return is based upon certain assumptions regarding interest rates. If interest rates are lower than assumed rates, our authorized rate of return in the future could be reduced. If interest rates are higher than assumed rates, it will be more difficult for us to earn our currently authorized rate of return.
Our earnings may be materially impacted due to volatility in the cash surrender value of our company-owned life insurance policies during periods in which stock market changes are significant.
We have life insurance policies with a net death benefit value of approximately $136 million on members of management and other key employees to indemnify ourselves against the loss of talent, expertise, and knowledge, as well as to provide indirect funding for certain nonqualified benefit plans. The net cash surrender value of these policies (which is the cash amount we would receive if we voluntarily terminated the policies) is approximately $58 million at December 31, 2009 and is included in the caption Other property and investments on the balance sheet. Cash surrender values are directly influenced by the investment portfolio underlying the insurance policies. This portfolio includes both equity and fixed income (mutual fund) investments. As a result, the cash surrender value (but not the net death benefits) moves up and down consistent with the movements in the broader stock and bond markets. During 2009, Southwest recognized in Other income (deductions) a net increase in the cash surrender values of its company-owned life insurance policies of $8.5 million (compared to a net decline of $12 million in 2008). Current tax regulations provide for tax-free treatment of life insurance (death benefit) proceeds. Therefore, changes in the cash surrender value components of company-owned life insurance policies as they progress towards the ultimate death benefits are also recorded without tax consequences. Currently, we intend to hold the company-owned life insurance policies for their duration and purchase additional policies as necessary. Changes in the cash surrender value of company-owned life insurance policies affect our earnings but not our cash flows.
The cost of providing pension and postretirement benefits is subject to changes in pension asset values, changing demographics, and actuarial assumptions which may have an adverse effect on our financial results.
We provide pension and postretirement benefits to eligible employees. Our costs of providing such benefits is subject to changes in the market value of our pension fund assets, changing demographics, life expectancies of beneficiaries, current and future legislative changes, and various actuarial calculations and assumptions. The actuarial assumptions used may differ materially from actual results due to changing market and economic conditions, withdrawal rates, interest rates, and other factors. These differences may result in a significant impact on the amount of pension expense or other postretirement benefit costs recorded in future periods. For example, lower than assumed returns on investments and/or reductions in bond yields would result in increased contributions and higher pension expense which would have a negative impact on our cash flows and results of operations.
A significant reduction in our credit ratings could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, and results of operations.
We cannot be certain that any of our current credit ratings will remain in effect for any given period of time or that a rating will not be lowered or withdrawn entirely by a rating agency if, in its judgment, circumstances in the future so warrant. Our credit ratings are subject to change at any time in the discretion of the applicable ratings agencies. Numerous factors, including many which are not within our control, are considered by the ratings agencies in connection with assigning credit ratings.
Any future downgrade could increase our borrowing costs, which would diminish our financial results. We would likely be required to pay a higher interest rate in future financings, and our potential pool of investors and funding sources could decrease. A downgrade could require additional support in the form of letters of credit or cash or other collateral and otherwise adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The nature of our operations presents inherent risks of loss that could adversely affect our results of operations.
Our operations are subject to inherent hazards and risks such as gas leaks, fires, natural disasters, explosions, pipeline ruptures, and other hazards and risks that may cause unforeseen interruptions, personal injury, or property damage. Additionally, our facilities, machinery, and equipment, including our pipelines, are subject to third party damage from construction activities and vandalism. Any of these or similar events could cause environmental pollution, personal injury or death claims, damage to our properties or the properties of others, or loss of revenue by us or others.
We maintain liability insurance for some, but not all, risks associated with the operation of our natural gas pipelines and facilities. In connection with these liability insurance policies, we are responsible for an initial deductible or self-insured retention amount per incident, after which the insurance carriers would be responsible for amounts up to the policy limits. Our current liability insurance policies require us to be responsible for the first $1 million dollars (self-insured retention) of each incident plus the first $5 million annually in total claims above our self-insured retention. We cannot predict the likelihood that any future event will occur which will result in a claim exceeding $1 million; however, a large claim for which we were deemed liable would reduce our earnings.
We rely on having access to interstate pipelines transportation capacity. If these pipelines were not available, it could impact our ability to meet our customers full requirements.
We must acquire both sufficient natural gas supplies and interstate pipeline capacity to meet customer requirements. We must contract for reliable and adequate delivery capacity for our distribution system, while considering the dynamics of the interstate pipeline capacity market, our own in-system resources, as well as the characteristics of our customer base. Interruptions to or reductions of interstate pipeline service caused by physical constraints, excessive customer usage or other force majeure could reduce our normal supply of gas. A prolonged interruption or reduction of interstate pipeline service in any of our jurisdictions, particularly during the winter heating season, would reduce cash flow and earnings.
The plant investment of Southwest consists primarily of transmission and distribution mains, compressor stations, peak shaving/storage plants, service lines, meters, and regulators, which comprise the pipeline systems and facilities located in and around the communities served. Southwest also includes other properties such as land, buildings, furnishings, work equipment, vehicles, and software systems in plant investment. The northern Nevada and northern California properties of Southwest are referred to as the northern system; the Arizona, southern Nevada, and southern California properties are referred to as the southern system. Several properties are leased by Southwest, including a portion of the corporate headquarters office complex located in Las Vegas, Nevada and the administrative offices in Phoenix, Arizona. Total gas plant, exclusive of leased property, at December 31, 2009 was $4.5 billion, including construction work in progress. It is the opinion of management that the properties of Southwest are suitable and adequate for its purposes.
Substantially all gas main and service lines are constructed across property owned by others under right-of-way grants obtained from the record owners thereof, on the streets and grounds of municipalities under authority conferred by franchises or otherwise, or on public highways or public lands under authority of various federal and state statutes. None of the numerous county and municipal franchises are exclusive, and some are of limited duration. These franchises are renewed regularly as they expire, and Southwest anticipates no serious difficulties in obtaining future renewals.
With respect to the right-of-way grants, Southwest has had continuous and uninterrupted possession and use of all such rights-of-way, and the associated gas mains and service lines, commencing with the initial stages of construction of such facilities. Permits have been obtained from public authorities and other governmental entities in certain instances to cross or to lay facilities along roads and highways. These permits typically are revocable at the election of the grantor and Southwest occasionally must relocate its facilities when requested to do so by the grantor. Permits have also been obtained from railroad companies to cross over or under railroad lands or rights-of-way, which in some instances require annual or other periodic payments and are revocable at the election of the grantors.
Southwest operates two primary pipeline transmission systems:
Southwest provides natural gas service in parts of Arizona, Nevada, and California. Service areas in Arizona include most of the central and southern areas of the state including Phoenix, Tucson, Yuma, and surrounding communities. Service areas in northern Nevada include Carson City, Yerington, Fallon, Lovelock, Winnemucca, and Elko. Service areas in southern Nevada include the Las Vegas valley (including Henderson and Boulder City) and Laughlin. Service areas in southern California include Barstow, Big Bear, Needles, and Victorville. Service areas in northern California include the Lake Tahoe area and Truckee.
Information on properties of NPL can be found on page 5 of this Form 10-K under Construction Services.
The Company is named as a defendant in various legal proceedings. The ultimate dispositions of these proceedings are not presently determinable; however, it is the opinion of management that none of this litigation individually or in the aggregate will have a material adverse impact on the Companys financial position or results of operations.
The listing of the executive officers of the Company is set forth under Part III Item 10. DIRECTORS, EXECUTIVE OFFICERS AND CORPORATE GOVERNANCE, which by this reference is incorporated herein.
The principal market on which the common stock of the Company is traded is the New York Stock Exchange. At February 17, 2010, there were 20,163 holders of record of common stock, and the market price of the common stock was $27.55. The quarterly market price of, and dividends on, Company common stock required by this item are included in the 2009 Annual Report to Shareholders filed as an exhibit hereto and incorporated herein by reference.
The Companys common stock dividend policy states that common stock dividends will be paid at a prudent level within the normal dividend payout range for its respective businesses, and that dividends will be established at a level considered sustainable in order to minimize business risk and maintain a strong capital structure throughout all economic cycles. The quarterly common stock dividend declared was 21.5 cents per share throughout 2007, 22.5 cents per share throughout 2008, and 23.75 cents per share throughout 2009. In February 2010, the Board of Directors increased the quarterly dividend payout to 25 cents per share, effective with the June 2010 payment.
Information required by this item is included in the 2009 Annual Report to Shareholders and is incorporated herein by reference.
Information required by this item is included in the 2009 Annual Report to Shareholders and is incorporated herein by reference.
The Company is exposed to various forms of market risk, including commodity price risk, weather risk, and interest rate risk. The following describes the Companys exposure to these risks.
Commodity Price Risk
In managing its natural gas supply portfolios, Southwest has historically entered into short duration (one year or less) fixed-price contracts and variable-price contracts (firm and spot). Southwest has experienced significant price volatility over the past several years. Price volatility is expected to continue into 2010 and beyond.
Southwest is protected financially from commodity price risk by purchased gas adjustment (PGA) mechanisms in each of its jurisdictions. These mechanisms generally allow Southwest to defer over- or under-collections of gas costs to PGA balancing accounts. With regulatory approval, Southwest can either refund amounts over-collected or recoup amounts under-collected in future periods. In addition to the PGA mechanism, Southwest utilizes a volatility mitigation program to attempt to further reduce price volatility for customers. Under this program Southwest fixes the price of approximately 50 percent of its natural gas portfolio using fixed-price contracts and/or derivative instruments (fixed-for-floating swaps).
All of Southwests natural gas purchase practices are subject to prudence review by the various regulatory bodies in each jurisdiction. PGA changes affect cash flows and potentially short-term borrowing requirements, but do not directly impact profit margin.
A significant portion of the Companys operating margin is volume-driven with current rates based on an assumption of normal weather. Demand for natural gas is greatly affected by temperature. On cold days, use of gas by residential and commercial customers can be six times greater than on warm days because of increased use of gas for space heating. Space heating-related volumes are the primary component of billings for these customer classes and are concentrated in the months of November to March. Variances in temperatures from normal levels, especially during these months, have a significant impact on the margin and associated net income of the Company. This impact is most pronounced in Arizona, where 54 percent of Southwests customers are located and where rates are highly leveraged.
Rate design is the primary mechanism available to Southwest to mitigate weather risk. In California, CPUC regulations allow Southwest to decouple operating margin from usage and offset weather risk. In Nevada, Southwest was authorized in November 2009 to implement a decoupled rate structure that will help stabilize operating margin by insulating the Company from the effects of lower usage (including volumes associated with unusual weather). In Arizona, the basic service charge provides some protection against weather-risk but commodity rates are highly leveraged, leaving a significant portion of operating margin subject to weather variations.
The Company continues to pursue a mechanism in Arizona to stabilize the recovery of the Companys fixed costs and reduce fluctuations in customers bills due to colder or warmer-than-normal weather.
Interest Rate Risk
Interest rate risk is the risk that changes in interest rates could adversely affect earnings or cash flows. The primary interest rate risk for the Company is the risk of increasing interest rates on variable-rate obligations. Interest rate risk sensitivity analysis is used to measure interest rate risk by computing estimated changes in cash flows as a result of assumed changes in market interest rates. In Nevada, fluctuations in interest rates on $100 million of variable-rate Industrial Development Revenue Bonds (IDRBs) are tracked and recovered from ratepayers through an interest balancing account which mitigates risk to earnings and cash flows from interest rate fluctuations on these IDRBs between general rate cases. As of December 31, 2009 and 2008, Southwest had $192 million and $255 million, respectively, in variable-rate debt outstanding, excluding the IDRBs noted above. Assuming a constant outstanding balance in variable-rate debt for the next twelve months, a hypothetical one percent change in interest rates would increase or decrease interest expense for the next twelve months by approximately $1.9 million.
The Company is also exposed to interest rate risk associated with new debt financing needed to fund maturities of long-term debt. Southwest has $200 million of long-term debt maturing in February 2011 and $200 million maturing in May 2012. The Company currently intends to issue $250 million of new debentures in December 2010 and $200 million of debentures in March 2012 to provide funding for the maturing obligations (and a portion of the redeemed subordinated debentures). In connection with these planned debt issuances, the Company, in January 2010, entered into two forward-starting interest rate swap (FSIRS) agreements to hedge the risk of interest rate variability during the period leading up to the planned issuances. The counterparties to both agreements comprise four major banking institutions. The first FSIRS has a notional amount of $125 million (with Southwest as the fixed-rate payer at a rate of 4.26%) and has a mandatory termination date on or before December 7, 2010. The second FSIRS has a notional amount of $100 million (with Southwest as the fixed-rate payer at a rate of 4.78%) and has a mandatory termination date on or before March 20, 2012. Southwest has designated the FSIRS agreements as cash flow hedges of forecasted future interest payments.
Other risk information is included in Item 1A. Risk Factors of this report.
The Consolidated Financial Statements of Southwest Gas Corporation and Notes thereto, together with the report of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, are included in the 2009 Annual Report to Shareholders and are incorporated herein by reference.
Disclosure Controls and Procedures
The Company has established disclosure controls and procedures that are designed to provide reasonable assurance that information required to be disclosed in reports filed or submitted under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the Exchange Act), is recorded, processed, summarized, and reported within the time periods specified in the SECs rules and forms and to provide reasonable assurance that such information is accumulated and communicated to our management, including our Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, as appropriate to allow timely decisions regarding required disclosures. A control system, no matter how well conceived and operated, can provide only reasonable, not absolute, assurance that the objectives of the control system are met. Further, the design of a control system must reflect the fact that there are resource constraints, and benefits of controls must be considered relative to their costs. Additionally, controls can be circumvented by the individual acts of some persons, by collusion of two or more people, or management override of the control. Because of the inherent limitations in a cost-effective control system, misstatements due to error or fraud may occur and may not be detected.
Based on the most recent evaluation, as of December 31, 2009, management of the Company, including the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, believe the Companys disclosure controls and procedures are effective at attaining the level of reasonable assurance noted above.
Internal Control Over Financial Reporting
The report of management of the Company required to be reported herein is incorporated by reference to the information reported in the 2009 Annual Report to Shareholders under the caption Managements Report on Internal Control Over Financial Reporting on page 69.
The Attestation Report of the Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm required to be reported herein is incorporated by reference to the information reported in the 2009 Annual Report to Shareholders under the caption Report of Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm on page 70.
There have been no changes in the Companys internal controls over financial reporting that occurred during the most recent fiscal quarter that have materially affected or that are reasonably likely to materially affect the Companys internal control over financial reporting.
(a) Identification of Directors. Information with respect to Directors is set forth under the heading Election of Directors in the definitive 2010 Proxy Statement, which by this reference is incorporated herein.
(b) Identification of Executive Officers. The name, age, position, and period position held during the last five years for each of the Executive Officers of the Company as of December 31, 2009 are as follows:
(c) Identification of Certain Significant Employees. None.
(d) Family Relationships. No Directors or Executive Officers are related either by blood, marriage, or adoption.
(e) Business Experience. Information with respect to Directors is set forth under the heading Election of Directors in the definitive 2010 Proxy Statement, which by this reference is incorporated herein. All Executive Officers have held responsible positions with the Company for at least five years as described in (b) above.
(f) Involvement in Certain Legal Proceedings. None.
(g) Promoters and Control Persons. None.
(h) Audit Committee Financial Expert. Information with respect to the financial expert of the Board of Directors audit committee is set forth under the heading Committees of the Board in the definitive 2010 Proxy Statement, which by this reference is incorporated herein.
(i) Identification of the Audit Committee. Information with respect to the composition of the Board of Directors audit committee is set forth under the heading Committees of the Board in the definitive 2010 Proxy Statement, which by this reference is incorporated herein.
(j) Material Changes in Director Nomination Procedures for Security Holders. None.
Section 16(a) Beneficial Ownership Reporting Compliance. The Company has adopted procedures to assist its directors and executive officers in complying with Section 16(a) of the Exchange Act which includes assisting in the preparation of forms for filing. Based upon a review of filings with the SEC and written representations that no other
reports were required, the Company believes that all of its directors and executive officers complied during 2009 with the reporting requirements of Section 16(a) of the Exchange Act, except for the following Form 3s:
The election of LeRoy Hanneman to the Board of Directors on May 7, 2009 and reported on May 19, 2009.
The reporting of LeRoy Hannemans shares on the May 19, 2009 Form 3 did not include his shares held in the Dividend Reinvestment and Stock Purchase Plan; an amended Form 3 including the shares was filed on September 4, 2009.
Code of Business Conduct and Ethics. The Company has adopted a code of business conduct and ethics for its employees, including its chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief accounting officer, and non-employee directors. A code of ethics is defined as written standards that are reasonably designed to deter wrongdoing and to promote: 1) honest and ethical conduct; 2) full, fair, accurate, timely, and understandable disclosure in reports and documents that a registrant files; 3) compliance with applicable governmental laws, rules, and regulations; 4) the prompt internal reporting of violations of the code to an appropriate person or persons identified in the code; and 5) accountability for adherence to the code. The Companys Code of Business Conduct & Ethics can be viewed on the Companys website (www.swgas.com). If any substantive amendments to the Code of Business Conduct & Ethics are made or any waivers are granted, including any implicit waiver, from a provision of the Code of Business Conduct & Ethics, to the Companys chief executive officer, chief financial officer and chief accounting officer, the Company will disclose the nature of such amendment or waiver on the Companys website, www.swgas.com.
Information with respect to executive compensation is set forth under the heading Executive Compensation in the definitive 2010 Proxy Statement, which by this reference is incorporated herein.
(a) Compensation Committee Interlocks and Insider Participation. Information with respect to Compensation Committee interlocks and insider participation is set forth under the heading Governance of the Company in the definitive 2010 Proxy Statement, which by this reference is incorporated herein.
(b) Compensation Committee Report. Information with respect to the Compensation Committee Report is set forth under the heading Compensation Committee Report in the definitive 2010 Proxy Statement, which by this reference is incorporated herein.
(a) Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners. Information with respect to security ownership of certain beneficial owners is set forth under the heading Securities Ownership by Directors, Director Nominees, Executive Officers, and Certain Beneficial Owners in the definitive 2010 Proxy Statement, which by this reference is incorporated herein.
(b) Security Ownership of Management. Information with respect to security ownership of management is set forth under the heading Securities Ownership by Directors, Director Nominees, Executive Officers, and Certain Beneficial Owners in the definitive 2010 Proxy Statement, which by this reference is incorporated herein.
(c) Changes in Control. None.
(d) Securities Authorized for Issuance Under Equity Compensation Plans.
At December 31, 2009, the Company had three stock-based compensation plans. With respect to the first plan, the Company previously granted options to purchase shares of common stock to key employees and outside directors. The option grants in 2006 consumed the remaining options that could be issued under the option plan and no future grants are anticipated.
Pursuant to the terms of the management incentive plan, the Company may issue performance shares to encourage key employees to remain in its employment to achieve short-term and long-term performance goals.
Pursuant to the terms of the restricted stock/unit plan, the Company may award restricted stock and restricted stock units to attract, motivate, retain and reward key employees with incentives for high levels of individual performance and improved financial performance of the Company and to attract, motivate, and retain experienced and knowledgeable independent directors.
Additional information regarding the three equity compensation plans is included in Note 10 of the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements in the 2009 Annual Report to Shareholders.
Information with respect to certain relationships and related transactions, and director independence is set forth under the heading Governance of the Company in the definitive 2010 Proxy Statement, which by this reference is incorporated herein.
Information with respect to accounting fees and services associated with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP is set forth under the heading Selection of Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm in the definitive 2010 Proxy Statement, which by this reference is incorporated herein.
(b) See LIST OF EXHIBITS.
LIST OF EXHIBITS
Pursuant to the requirements of Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the Registrant has duly caused this report to be signed on its behalf by the undersigned, thereunto duly authorized.
Pursuant to the requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, this report has been signed below by the following persons on behalf of the Registrant and in the capacities and on the dates indicated.