UPDATE 4-Germany's E.ON warns of two tough years ahead
* One-off items to hit less in 2012 than in 2011
* Sees 2011 adj EBITDA at 11.2-11.9 bln eur vs poll 11.7 bln
* Reiterates adj EBITDA to rise to 13 bln eur by 2013
* Shares down 1.8 percent
* To pay dividend of at least 1.3 euros/share for 2011
(Adds link to Reuters Insider interview with E.ON CEO)
By Peter Dinkloh
DUESSELDORF, Germany, March 9 (Reuters) - German utility E.ON (EONGn.DE) sees two tough years ahead as the cost of a tax deal struck with the government on nuclear plants, higher gas costs and lower power prices keep a lid on profits.
The world's largest utility by sales, which is just four months into a major shake-up of its business aimed at cutting its debts and expanding outside Europe, warned on Wednesday of an expected fall in its core profit this year.
The same burdens would to a lesser degree drag on earnings in 2012 before profits regain their 2010 levels in 2013, recently appointed Chief Executive Johannes Teyssen said.
"The next two years will be economically tough for us," Teyssen said.
"The transformation process demands a lot of trust in E.ON and its management from all our stakeholders."
The main drag on profit this year will be a deal struck in 2010 allowing operators to extend the operating life of German nuclear power plants by 12 years in exchange for an extra tax and a levy to boost investment in renewable energy. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
For a Reuters Insider interview with Teyssen click on:
HOOKED ON GAS CONTRACTS
But gas holds the "biggest risk" for 2011, Finance Chief Marcus Schenck said, as E.ON seeks to renegotiate long-term gas contracts under which it is buying the fuel at higher prices than the oversupplied market allows it to pass on.
The gas division's operating earnings might more than half to 700 million euros in 2011, CEO Teyssen forecast, as the company urgently negotiates with suppliers to change its gas contracts, under which it has to buy a fixed amount at a price tied to the oil price.
Disappointment at the results was reflected in the E.ON share price. The stock was down 1.8 percent at 22.71 euros by 1510 GMT, while the STOXX Europe 600 utilities index .SX6P was just 0.1 percent lower.
"Their gas business is hurting them again this year," said MacQuarie analyst Matthias Heck. "It is therefore decisive they renegotiate their gas purchasing contracts successfully and that they get the disposals done now."
The group has been negotiating for new terms with little apparent success for some two years and a person with knowledge of the matter said some partners will simply not budge.
"Russia's Gazprom (GAZP.MM) has made an offer that is not sufficient," said the person, who declined to be identified.
"Norway and the Netherlands are more willing to accommodate E.ON's wishes," said the person.
DIVIDENDS TO REASSURE
To soothe investors during a time of shaky profits, E.ON is promising investors a dividend of at least 1.30 euros a share for 2011 and 2012. While down from the 1.50 euros a share for 2010, it is providing certainty that other large, listed European utilities have not.
That promise comes as E.ON expects adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to fall to 11.2-11.9 billion euros ($15.6-$16.5 billion) in 2011, against a market forecast of 11.7 billion according to a Reuters poll.
By 2013 adjusted EBITDA will return to a level of at least 13 billion euros, E.ON said.
As falling earnings threaten to make the company more indebted than management deems appropriate, Teyssen has committed to selling assets worth 15 billion euros.
He has already sold units worth 9 billion euros in four months - including E.ON's stake in Gazprom (GAZP.MM) and power grids in Britain - which helped cut E.ON's debt to 37.7 billion euros at the end of December.
That is 2.8 times EBITDA, less than E.ON's targeted multiple of 3, giving it room for planned investments of 7.5 billion euros in businesses outside Europe, CFO Schenck said. ($1=0.7201 euros) (Additional reporting by Josie Cox and Maria Sheahan in Frankfurt; Editing by Alexander Smith)
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