Electricity payouts spark leap in shares: Cuts and high demand aid Midlands and South Wales

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The Independent Online
TWO REGIONAL electricity companies, Midlands Electricity and South Wales Electricity, reported interim dividends ahead of expectations yesterday and pushed share prices higher across the sector.

Midlands, up 22p to 675p, provided the main impetus with a headline dividend figure 20.5 per cent ahead of its interim dividend last year. But Peter Chapman, executive director finance, said this was a result of rebalancing interim and final dividend payments. In reality, the 7.65p dividend represented a rise of 14.75 per cent.

South Wales, up 14p to 656p, weighed in with a 13.64 per cent increase to 7.5p.

Operating profits at the companies rose strongly as staff numbers were cut and use of electricity grew. Midlands reported an increase of 31 per cent in its operating profits, to pounds 80.7m, and South Wales a 12.9 per cent increase to pounds 38.6m.

Midlands cut its staff by 280 to 5,529 and South Wales by 60 to 2,534. A combination of colder weather and higher industrial use lifted the total units used by 2.3 per cent at Midlands and 1.7 per cent at South Wales.

But the headline rise in Midlands' operating profits exaggerates the underlying growth because there was a one-off pounds 10m provision in its retailing business at this stage last year.

The two companies have also reduced bills. Midlands is giving a pounds 10 rebate to quarterly-billed customers on 1 January which, together with an earlier reduction, is equivalent to a price reduction of more than 7 per cent in the full year. South Wales has cut prices for direct debit and token meter customers by 3 per cent and those for others by 1.5 per cent in the full year.

Pre-tax profits at Midlands rose 34 per cent to pounds 89.5m, with income from investments rising by pounds 3.6m to pounds 8.8m after the first profit contribution from Teesside Power. But the E&S retailing joint venture recorded an operating loss of pounds 1.7m. Midlands' share of this is pounds 0.5m.

South Wales' 18.1 per cent pre-tax profit growth to pounds 44.4m was also helped by a contribution from an investment in Teesside Power.

Midlands reported earnings per share up 33.19 per cent to 30.1p and South Wales' earnings per share up 19.23 per cent to 31p.

Both companies said there was room for further cost-cutting. Midlands stressed this would not be just by way of job cuts; it was also concentrating on improving efficiency among its maintenance staff.

(Photograph omitted)

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