Allete says 1st-qtr earnings rise 26 pct

NEW YORK, April 25 (Reuters) - Allete Inc. , which operates businesses ranging from energy services to auto financing, said on Friday its first-quarter earnings rose 26 percent, helped by increased power sales and prices.

The company, based in Duluth, Minnesota, reported a quarterly net profit of $44.3 million, or 54 cents per share, up from a net profit of $35.2 million, or 44 cents per share, a year ago. It posted earnings per share of 47 cents from continuing operations.

Allete, which owns the Minnesota Power utility, also said that local government officials expressed interest earlier this month in buying about two-thirds of the assets of the company's Florida Water Holdings water utility network.

Should that happen, Florida Water would seek to sell the remaining one-third of its assets to other interested local governments. Anything not sold to local governments would be sold to a private buyer, the company said in a statement.

During the first-quarter, Allete called off the $500 million sale of Florida Water after pending litigation and a court ruling doomed the sale to two north Florida cities.