Baltimore's Constellation Energy Group Inc. said its fourth-quarter operating earnings rose 30 percent.

But the company took a net loss after $66.3 million in charges to pay for changes associated with the pending deregulation of the Maryland utility industry. The company's chief subsidiary is Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

The net loss in the quarter was $26.8 million on revenue of $1.06 billion, compared with net income of $13.2 million (9 cents) on revenue of $790 million in the same period of 1998.

For the year, Constellation earned $260.1 million ($1.74) on revenue of $3.79 billion, compared with earnings of $305.9 million ($2.06) on revenue of $3.36 billion in 1998.

"While the electric restructuring settlement has caused some initial pain, it was critical to get this matter resolved in order to eliminate the uncertainty associated with electric restructuring," said chief executive Christian H. Poindexter, referring to the looming deregulation.

* Mercantile Bankshares Corp. reported fourth-quarter net income of $40.8 million (59 cents a share), compared with net income of $37.8 million (53 cents) in the same period of 1998.

For 1999, the Baltimore bank holding company earned $157.7 million ($2.25), compared with $147.1 million in 1998.

Assets increased about 5 percent to $7.6 billion on Dec. 31.

The company's return on average assets was 2.07 percent, compared with the industry standard of 1 percent.

* Columbia Bancorp said its 1999 net income increased 9.9 percent to $5.2 million ($1.14 a share), compared with $4.7 million ($1.03) in 1998.

Columbia, which has 15 banking offices throughout central Maryland, had assets of $467.7 million on Dec. 31, an increase of 9.4 percent from the end of 1998.

Columbia is expected to merge with Beltsville-based Suburban Bancshares Inc. in the next three months. When the merger is complete, Columbia will have 23 branches.

CONSTELLATION ENERGY GROUP EARNINGS

1999 IV: $26.8 million loss

SOURCE: Bloomberg News