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TransAlta revises full year outlook up after good third quarter

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TransAlta Corporation has reported its third quarter 2019 financial results, which reflect solid operational and financial performance for the quarter. 

As a result of strong operational performance year-to-date and our expectations for the balance of the year, we have increased our full year 2019 FCF outlook.

Comparable EBITDA for the three and nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019, excluding the PPA Settlements, decreased $1 million and $49 million, respectively, compared to the same periods in 2018. Strong performance at the Canadian Coal and Energy Marketing segments significantly offset reductions in EBITDA at Canadian Gas that were expected as the long-term Mississauga PPA rolled off at the end of 2018 and the Poplar Creek PPA stepped down. At Canadian Coal, comparable EBITDA improved in the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019 compared to the same period in 2018, due to the combined impact of higher realized prices on greater merchant production, increased co-firing resulting in lower fuel, carbon compliance and purchased power costs as well as lower OM&A costs. In addition, performance from our Energy Marketing segment was stronger than the same periods in 2018, particularly from US Western and Eastern markets due to continued high levels of volatility across North America power markets. Comparable EBITDA for the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019 was negatively impacted by the unplanned outage at US Coal during the first quarter of 2019.

FCF, after adjusting for the PPA Settlements, was $20 million higher for the three months ended Sept. 30, 2019 compared to the same period in 2018, mainly due to timing of sustaining capital expenditures and strong results, despite significant cash flow declines from the Mississauga and Poplar Creek PPAs. For the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019, FCF was $11 million lower, excluding the PPA Settlements, compared with the same period in 2018, mainly due to lower comparable EBITDA, partially offset by lower distributions paid to subsidiaries' non-controlling interests.

"Results for the quarter were stronger than expected and demonstrated progress in our business transition," said Dawn Farrell, President and Chief Executive Officer. "We continue to be pleased with the Alberta thermal business which showed stronger margins and availability performance. With the Pioneer Pipeline contract now in place, we see further improvements in that business segment. Our Clean Energy Investment Plan is tracking with two wind farms to come on-line at the end of 2019 and the acceleration of our gas repowering strategy due to the purchase of the Kineticor assets," commented Mrs. Farrell.

  • Canadian Coal: Excluding the PPA Settlements, comparable EBITDA for the three and nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019 was $6 million and $24 million higher, respectively, compared with the same periods in 2018. This largely reflects the combined impact of higher prices in the first half of the year, and lower fuel, carbon compliance, purchased power and OM&A costs.
  • U.S. Coal: Comparable EBITDA for the three months ended Sept. 30, 2019, increased by $18 million compared to the same period in 2018, due to strong availability of units. Comparable EBITDA for the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019, was down $23 million compared to the same period in 2018. During an isolated and extreme pricing event in March, Centralia was unable to commit one of its units to physical production for day ahead supply due to an unplanned forced outage repair. As a result, the Corporation incurred cash losses of $25 million on its day ahead hedging position.
  • Canadian Gas: Comparable EBITDA for the three and nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019 decreased by $28 million and $89 million, respectively, compared to the same periods in 2018, mainly due to the Mississauga contract ending Dec. 31, 2018 and lower scheduled payments from the Poplar Creek finance lease. Additionally, year-to-date results have benefited from lower OM&A costs compared to the prior year, and lower fuel costs at Sarnia due to less steam demand stemming from customer planned outages. In the three and nine months ended Sept. 30, 2018, comparable EBITDA included $31 million and $103 million of EBITDA, respectively, from the Mississauga and Poplar Creek contracts.
  • Australian Gas: Comparable EBITDA for the three and nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019 was consistent with the same periods in 2018, which was expected due to the nature of our contracts.
  • Wind and Solar: Comparable EBITDA for the three and nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019 was consistent with the same periods in 2018. In the third quarter, higher overall production, higher sales of green attributes and lower OM&A costs were offset by lower insurance proceeds. For the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019, higher sales of green attributes and lower OM&A costs were offset by lower production.
  • Hydro: Total gross revenues decreased by $6 million for the three months ended Sept. 30, 2019 compared to the same period in 2018, due to unfavourable power and ancillary services pricing. Total gross revenues increased by $6 million for the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019 as favourable energy sales more than offset lower ancillary services revenue. After net payments relating to the Alberta hydro PPA, comparable EBITDA for the three and nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019 was consistent with the same periods in 2018.
  • Energy Marketing: For the three months ended Sept. 30, 2019, comparable EBITDA was consistent with the same period in 2018, due to strong results in both periods. For the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019, comparable EBITDA was $36 million higher compared to the same period in 2018 due to strong results across all markets with particularly strong performance from US Western and Eastern markets due to continued high levels of volatility across North American power markets. OM&A increased due to higher incentive costs related to stronger performance. The Energy Marketing team was able to capitalize on short term arbitrage opportunities in the markets we trade.
  • Corporate: During the three months ended Sept. 30, 2019, OM&A costs decreased by $2 million, due to cost saving efficiencies, partially offset by higher legal fees. For the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019, OM&A costs decreased by $8 million, primarily due to the year-to-date realized net gain of $8 million from the total return swap on our share-based payment plans, payments on leases that were capitalized on implementation of IFRS 16 and other cost saving efficiencies, partially offset by higher legal fees. The losses on the total return swap realized during the second and third quarters of 2019 partially offset the gain realized in the first quarter of 2019. A portion of the settlement cost of our share-based payment plans is fixed by entering into total return swaps, which are cash settled every quarter.

Consolidated Earnings Review

Net earnings attributable to common shareholders for the three and nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019 were $51 million and a loss of $14 million, respectively. Increased earnings was largely due to the $56 million PPA Settlement received during the third quarter of 2019 as well as the reversal of a previous impairment at the Centralia plant of $151 million, which was partially offset by the $109 million increase for the decommissioning and restoration liability at the Centralia mine and the $18 million write-off of project development costs. Excluding the PPA Settlements and impairment charges and reversals in 2019 and 2018, net loss for the three and nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019 was $18 million and $83 million, respectively, which are improvements over 2018. Stronger earnings are attributable to stronger performance at Canadian Coal and Energy Marketing, strong year-to-date Alberta pricing, the Alberta tax rate reduction, lower OM&A costs, and lower interest expense, partially offset by other gains and losses.

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2019, total sustaining capital expenditures of $111 million were $13 million higher compared to 2018 primarily due to higher planned major maintenance in the Canadian Coal segment. There were no planned maintenance outages on operated power plants in Canadian Coal for 2018. Total capital expenditures of $118 million, which includes productivity capital expenditures, were $8 million higher than 2018 and in-line with the Company's guidance for the year.

Significant planned major outages at TransAlta's operated units for the remainder of 2019 include the following:

  • Distributed planned maintenance expenditures across the entire Hydro fleet; and
  • Distributed expenditures across our Wind fleet, focusing on planned component replacements.

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