Ameren to issue 19 million shares of stock

ST. LOUIS | Ameren Corp. on Tuesday said it plans to issue 19 million shares of common stock to strengthen the balance sheet at in its regulated electric and natural gas utilities in Missouri and Illinois.

The offering is expected to reduce earnings by 5 cents a share in 2009, or 6 cents if underwriters exercise an option to purchase up to 2.85 million additional shares, Ameren said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Shares of St. Louis-based Ameren closed at $26.32 on Tuesday. At that price, the offering would raise $495 to $569 million depending on whether the underwriters’ option is exercised, the company said. Proceeds will be used to invest in to Ameren’s rate-regulated utilities as well as for general corporate purposes and to reduce borrowings under credit facilities, the company said.

The stock offering is the latest maneuver by Ameren in recent months to shore up its balance sheet in the face of weakened energy markets and declining wholesale electricity prices.

On Friday, the company announced it would offer buyouts to 350 employees and will lay off an unspecified number of others. The news followed the elimination of 140 positions from its merchant generation unit.

Ameren has also slashed its dividend in an effort to preserve cash and is making significant cuts to its capital spending in coming years.