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Poor Ian Conn. For the Centrica boss, there now appears little hope that energy companies will enjoy better treatment under the next UK government. Last month, Mr Conn complained that “there are some at the heart of the government who just don’t believe in free markets.”. This weekend, non-believers he bemoaned held a 19 percentage point lead in the polls, while the opposition’s would-be chancellor said there was much to be learned from Marx’s Das Kapital.
Little wonder, then, that Centrica and others fear state intervention to cap customers’ energy bills. When it was mooted as a Tory manifesto pledge, the group’s shares fell 3 per cent. And little wonder, also, that Centrica and the other “big six” power companies have already withdrawn some of their cheapest deals, according to price comparison website uSwitch.
Analysts at Bernstein have calculated that the first year of a price freeze would chill Centrica’s operating profits by some £332m.
This morning, however, Centrica said it had provided the government with “alternative ways to improve the market further and address their concerns, without resorting to price regulation”, and warned of other external threats to its 2017 profitability. It said warmer than normal weather in the year to date has resulted in lower than planned energy consumption in the UK and North America, while UK wholesale oil, gas and power prices have all fallen since it last updated the market in February.
Consequently, the group is focusing on cost efficiencies to offset these factors, and expects to hit its 2017 targets:
Adjusted operating cash flow above £2bn.
Efficiency savings of £250 on top of 2016 savings of £384m
Net debt in the £2.5-£3.0bn range.
Mr Conn said:
The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.
Sorry, no, that was Karl Marx. Mr Conn said:
We continue to make good progress in implementing our customer-facing strategy, building on the underlying momentum we had as we entered 2017. Customer service is improving, we have launched new offers delivering choice for customers and rewarding loyalty and we continue to develop our technology capabilities.
In the middle of the winter, Numis, the Aim-quoted broker, was looking forward to a hotting up in M&A activity this year, as it posted record full-year revenues for 2016 despite “mixed” markets.
This morning, though, the thermostat was set to lukewarm as half-year results failed to set the mercury rising. Revenue was down 8 per cent, to £52.4m, in the six months to March 31, against record high revenues in the prior period. A 31 per cent increase in equities revenue was offset by a decrease in corporate broking and advisory work – which was down 26 per cent to £29.0m.
As a result, half-year profit before tax was down 38 per cent year-on-year to £10.5m, even including £1.4m of net gains on the group’s strategic investment portfolio.
Numis blamed the slump in corporate broking and advisory business on a lack of share issuance in the UK market of late. It completed only two initial public offerings in the period compared with 10 in the same period last year.
Co-chief executives Alex Ham and Ross Mitchinson, said:
Numis delivered a creditable performance when viewed against record revenue generation in the comparable prior period and muted primary issuance market-wide. The business remains focussed on servicing its high quality corporate client base whilst, at the same time, expanding the franchise into supporting unquoted as well as quoted companies.
Numis also announced that Oliver Hemsley, its founder and former chief executive, will step down from its board with immediate effect, taking up a 12-month advisory role.
FT Opening Quote, with commentary by Matthew Vincent, is your early Square Mile briefing. You can sign up for the full newsletter here.