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Coal? Nah. Hardly ever touch the stuff these days … Or so Drax - owner of the UK’s largest power station – is keen to tell the world. Having just spent four years converting nearly half of that power plant to burn wood pellets instead, with the help of £450m in green energy subsidies in 2015, it is keen to stress its cleaner living credentials.
This morning, its full year results show the progress being made – and the cost. In the 12 months to December 31, the company generated 65 per cent of its electricity from renewable biomass and achieved “improving retail and pellet supply profitability” – whatever that is. But its earnings before nasties fell from £169m to £140m due to “challenging commodity markets” and the loss of climate change levy exemptions. Underlying earnings more than halved, from $46m to £21m.
In December, Drax emphasised its disavowal of coal by paying £340m for part-renewable energy supplier Opus and investing £18.5m in four gas power generation projects that aim to help fill gaps in intermittent wind and solar energy supply.
It now says 2017 earnings expectations are in line with consensus analyst forecasts.
Chief executive Dorothy Thompson said: “The acquisition of Opus Energy and rapid response open cycle gas turbine projects are an important step in delivering our strategy, diversifying our earnings base and contributing to stronger, long-term financial performance across the markets in which we operate.”
Shire, the pharmaceuticals group, is also keen to stress how it has grown, rather than any unfortunate habits that may have clouded its past.
So expect its full year results, which will be released later at midday, to focus on a forecast doubling in profit and sales – rather than the £287m it recently paid to settle a lawsuit with the US Department of Justice over allegations of paying illegal bribes, in the form of dinners and cash, to convince doctors of its drugs’ worth.
Shire’s performance enhancement stems principally from its £26bn acquisition of Baxalta last year, which helped make it a leader in drugs for rare diseases.
As a result, its annual revenues are forecast to hit $11.3bn (£9bn), lifting operating profit to $4.5bn (£3.6bn). However, any miss will be scrutinised. Shire’s third quarter earnings fell short of expectations – mainly due to poor sales of Baxalta haemophilia treatments.
Investors will also want to see evidence of the expected cost synergies from the deal – and the extent to which the debt pile is being swept under the carpet
Primary Health Properties, which leases premises to NHS clinics and doctors’ surgeries, has demonstrated a valuable immunity to a wider malaise: last year, the specialist real estate investment trust said its property deals had been unaffected by Brexit.
In fact, investment in so-called alternative property picked after the EU referendum, according to commercial property broker Lambert Smith Hampton.
This morning, Primary Health said its property portfolio grew by 11 per cent to £1.2bn in 2016, and underlying like for like growth was 2.3 per cent. Net rental income increased by 6.9 per cent in 2016 to £67m but the group’s pre-tax profit dropped to £44, from £56m a year earlier, as its surplus on property valuation fell.
And, finally, Bermuda-based insurance company Lancashire Holdings is still experiencing feelings of distinct unease. This time last year, it was reporting a drop in full-year profits after premium income fell by a third – in what chief executive Alex Maloney called “one of the most difficult trading environments during the last 20 years.”
“Everything’s difficult at the moment,” he said at the time. “The last time it was this difficult was in the late 1990s.”
Well, it’s not much easier now. For Lancashire, “the 2016 year proved a turbulent one for the global political and macroeconomic environment and the insurance market remained very challenging.” Full year pre-tax profit fell from £172m to £150m, as gross premiums written dipped from £641m to £634m and the group’s combined ratio of claims to premiums
rose from 76.5 per cent to 79 per cent.
This time, Mr Maloney preferred to focus on return on equity which, at 13.5 per cent, he deemed “an exceptional outcome in this environment”.
For the latest commentary on Qinetiq’s defence investment and Bowleven boardroom battle, take a look at this morning’s Lombard column.