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With coronavirus shutdowns sapping commercial-power demand, Xcel Energy is expecting a "severe impact" to electricity sales in its current quarter, but not enough to change its 2020 profit forecast.

"We can take actions to weather the impact of COVID-19," Xcel CEO Ben Fowke told stock analysts in a conference call Thursday.

That includes cutting operating and maintenance expenses by 4% to 5% in 2020 to offset revenue declines.

Workplace closures and production slowdowns prompted by COVID-19 have sapped commercial and industrial power sales nationwide — and Xcel is no exception.

The Minneapolis-based company reported Thursday that its preliminary electricity revenue in April was down 9.6% over a year ago, driven by a 13.7% fall in commercial and industrial sales.

Residential power sales rose 3.2%, reflecting the coronavirus-induced shift to working at home.

COVID-19's economic effects are expected to diminish in the year's second half, but not disappear, Xcel reported. Under Xcel's new "base" electric sales scenario, there will be a "severe impact through [the second quarter] with slower recovery and lingering effects."

For the year, Xcel is forecasting a 4% decline in total electricity revenue, driven by a 6% fall in commercial and industrial sales.

To counter the shortfall, Xcel plans operations and maintenance cuts that include a hiring freeze and the attrition of employees who retire or otherwise leave the company.

"In terms of earnings, there is considerable uncertainty around COVID-19 impacts," Xcel Chief Financial Officer Brian Van Abel told stock analysts. Still, "we can be confident under the base-case scenario that we will be in our earnings guidance range."

The company expects 2020 profits of $2.73 to $2.83 per share.

Xcel on Thursday reported first-quarter earnings below analysts' expectations, dinged by "adverse weather." A relatively warm winter led to lower natural gas sales. The COVID-19 crisis did not have a significant effect on first-quarter results, Xcel said.

The company reported first-quarter earnings of $295 million, or 56 cents per share, compared with $315 million, or 61 cents per share, in the same period in 2019. Stock analysts were anticipating per-share profits of 60 cents.

Xcel's first-quarter revenue tallied $2.81 billion, down from $3.14 billion a year ago. The company's stock closed Thursday at $59.96, down $1.26 or 2%.

Xcel is Minnesota's largest electric utility and second-largest natural gas provider. The company's other primary market is Colorado, and it also operates in Wisconsin, Texas, New Mexico, the Dakotas and a slice of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003