Power company Southern Co. (SO) said Wednesday it sees opportunities to buy assets during the economic downturn and credit crisis, including assets beyond its traditional center of operations in the southeastern U.S.

"As a result of the current liquidity issues in the market, we see opportunities to obtain assets, including renewable generation, around the region and across the nation," Chairman and Chief Executive David Ratcliffe said during a conference call on the company's 2008 results.

Ratcliffe didn't elaborate on potential targets, other than to say that while the company would prefer to buy assets in the Southeast, "we're not going to limit ourselves geographically at this point."

The company forecast capital expenditures for 2009-2011 of $16.6 billion.

Paul Bowers, Southern's chief financial officer, said the budget reflects spending requirements to meet the long-term growth of the Southeast, and environmental and reliability rules.

"We believe current market conditions could enable us to further improve both the short- and long-term growth profile of Southern Power," Bowers said on the call.

Bowers also said that while Southern historically has seen annual customer growth rates of around 1.5%, this rate declined to 0.6% in the fourth quarter. He added that the company expects this lower growth to continue for most of 2009, though the long-term economic fundamentals of the Southeast remain strong.

Southern Co. earlier Wednesday posted a 9% drop in fourth-quarter net income to $185.6 million, or 24 cents a share, a penny a share below the average forecast from analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Full-year 2008 earnings came in at $1.74 billion, or $2.26 a share.

The company forecast 2009 earnings per share of $2.30 to $2.45, saying that in a postrecessionary economy, it targets a long-term average EPS growth rate of 6%.

-By Mark Long, Dow Jones Newswires; 201-938-4427; mark.long@dowjones.com

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