3 Min Read
* Boosting efforts to cut exposure to swings in prices
* Announces acquisition of Keepmoat Regeneration (Recasts with industry context, adds shares)
By Geert De Clercq
PARIS, March 2 (Reuters) - French utility Engie took 3.8 billion euros ($4 billion) worth of impairments due to low power prices and higher nuclear provisions in Belgium and said it would seek to further reduce its exposure to volatile energy prices.
With a flood of investment in renewable energies boosting European generation capacity, power prices hit decade lows last year, forcing Engie and other utilities to write down or sell off coal and gas-fired power plants.
German companies RWE and E.ON have been hit especially hard but the problems are more widespread.
However, Engie shares, which had set new lows in recent weeks, rose more than six percent on a confident 2017 earnings outlook and progress on the gas and power group's strategic overhaul.
Engie Chief Executive Isabelle Kocher noted progress on a three-year plan to focus more on regulated and contracted business. These activities made up 75 percent of Engie's business at the end of 2016, with a target to boost that to 85 percent by 2018.
Kocher wants to turn the gas and power utility into a group more focused on regulated power infrastructures, notably gas networks, and contract-based energy services.
Engie CFO Judith Hartmann said Engie was in advanced talks with potential buyers of its oil and gas exploration and production activities, but declined to give more detail.
She added that Engie was confident in its ability to achieve 85 percent of its planned assets sales by the end of 2017.
The group has budgeted 15 billion euros worth of asset sales for the 2016-18 period and has already sold 8 billion euros worth of assets, she said.
Kocher said that Engie was also looking for partners to invest in its Belgian unit Electrabel.
As part of its plan to reinvest the proceeds of these sales into less commodity-sensitive activities, Engie on Wednesday announced the 330 million pound ($405 million) acquisition of Britain's Keepmoat Regeneration, which specialises in renovating buildings for local authorities.
Kocher said that in 2016 Engie had realised 530 million worth of cost cuts, with plans to increase its cost cuts target by 20 percent to 1.2 billion euros by the end of 2018.
Core earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) fell 5.2 percent to 10.7 billion, and net recurring income fell 4.3 percent to 2.5 billion. The net loss narrowed to 400 million euros from a net loss of 4.6 billion in 2015.
Engie said it would pay a one euro dividend per share, in line with expectations, and said that on 2017 and 2018 it planned to pay 0.70 euros. ($1 = 0.9498 euros) (Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta/Keith Weir)