Grid begins £5bn gas network sale

National Grid Transco will put five of its regional gas distribution networks up for sale next month, with a price tag for each of them at about £1bn.

The company also committed itself to investing £10bn on its infrastructure over the next five years, in response to concerns about its maintenance expenditure following the recent power breakdown in London. This year it will spend £2bn in the UK and the US, including £300m on the UK electricity grid.

The gas and electricity network group also announced a 15 per cent rise in the full-year dividend and said it would seek to grow the dividend by 7 per cent a year until March 2008 as it reported interim results yesterday.

Underlying pre-tax profits were up 19 per cent at £405m for the six months to 30 September.

Fraser McLaren, an analyst with ING, said: "Although we had thought that the ongoing Ofgem [regulatory] investigation into the London blackout would preclude enhancement of the dividend policy, we welcome the indication of confidence, especially as it crosses over two regulatory reviews."

National Grid has already received interest from trade buyers, such as United Utilities and Scottish & Southern, for some of its eight regional gas distribution networks.

NM Rothschild and Morgan Stanley will market five of the networks and will issue a memorandum of information next month. It is understood that National Grid is looking to sell a minimum of two and a maximum of four of these gas distribution systems.

The regulated asset value of each network varies, with some worth a little under £1bn in a sale and others worth more than £1bn.

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