Bottom Line: Scottish revival

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The Independent Online
SCOTTISH POWER and Hydro- electric have been among the worst share price performers in the electricity sector this year, underperforming the stock market by 15 per cent in the past three months.

The Scottish electricity companies began the year with high valuations brought about by overconfidence among investors over their relatively less exposed position to draconian price regulation in distribution activities. This view gradually lost its force.

Yesterday Scottish Power - whose shares jumped 11p to 378p, provoking a sympathetic rise in Hydro-electric - revived the argument for the Scots.

It was not so much because of Scottish Power's dividend increase, which at 11 per cent will look pedestrian in comparison with the rises due to be announced by the English generators and the regional electricity companies.

The company, which now has a shrewd suspicion just how tough Offer will be on distribution - about 45 per cent of Scottish Power's profits against 95 per cent on average among the regional companies - was able to project real dividend increases of 5 or 6 per cent for the foreseeable future.

With advance VAT payments eliminating gearing and huge surplus cash flows, Scottish Power's balance sheet is strong and its moves into unregulated territory are, unlike East Midlands, looking robust so far.

Cheap Miller Gas and future retrofits of coal-fired stations should be helping margins, and exports from Scotland could add 10 per cent to earnings in a few years.

A 4.5 per cent prospective yield in that respect offers attractions over the higher-yielding regional companies and lower-yielding English generators.