Questar Corp. on Wednesday reported a 25 percent increase in net income in the first quarter, bolstered by higher natural gas production, higher realized prices for natural gas and oil and strong margins for gas processing.

The Salt Lake-based company reported net income of $95.2 million, or $1.10 per share, for the quarter, up from $76.1 million, or 89 cents per share, in the year-ago period. The earnings beat the consensus Wall Street expectation by 2 cents per share.

Revenues totaled $680.3 million, up from $563.6 million.

The earnings report came after markets closed Wednesday. During the day, Questar's stock fell 81 cents to $58.81 per share on the New York Stock Exchange. During the past year, the price has ranged from $34.26 to $62.75.

Questar Gas, a retail gas distribution subsidiary, contributed $28.7 million to earnings, up $2.4 million from a year earlier. The number of customers grew 3.1 percent year over year to 800,523. Customer usage, adjusted for average temperatures, rose 1 percent.

"Customer growth and higher usage per customer more than offset a nominal rise in operating and maintenance expenses," the company said.

Keith O. Rattie, Questar Corp.'s chairman, president and chief executive officer, said the company has adjusted its 2005 guidance to $3.15 to $3.30 per share, up from earlier guidance of $3.10 to $3.30 per share.

"First-quarter production volumes were up about 4 percent from a year ago, but about 1 billion cubic feet of gas equivalent below our expectations because we drilled and completed fewer wells than planned due to bad weather, a shortage of rigs and land access-related delays," Rattie said in a prepared statement.

He added that 2005 production still should be within earlier guidance, which would be 8 percent to 10 percent higher than a year ago.

A breakdown of Questar Corp. figures shows that:

Questar Market Resources' net income rose 41 percent to $56.6 million. It is involved in gas and oil exploration, development and production, gas gathering and processing, wholesale gas and oil marketing and gas storage.

Questar Exploration and Production, a subsidiary of QMR, had net income of $36.3 million, up 44 percent.

QMR Subsidiary Wexpro earned $10.2 million, up 13 percent.

Questar Gas Management, QMR's gas-gathering and processing-services business, had net income of $8.8 million, up 65 percent.

Questar Energy Trading — which sells QMR's equity gas and oil, provides risk-management services and operates a natural gas storage facility in the Rockies — earned $1.4 million, up from $700,000 a year earlier.

Questar Pipeline — operating a natural gas transportation and storage network in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado — earned $8.3 million, up from $8.1 million.


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com