UPDATE 2-EDF keeps profit outlook despite tariffs cap

Thu Jul 31, 2014 8:01am EDT

Related Topics

* Confirms EBITDA guidance despite tariff cap

* Nuclear output up 0.8 pct as planned outages shortened

* Expects 850 mln euros from 2012-2013 catch-up payments

* Expects Hinkley Point decision from outgoing Commission (Adds CEO comments on tariffs, Hinkley Point)

By Geert De Clercq

PARIS, July 31 (Reuters) - French state-controlled utility EDF maintained its 2014 profit guidance on Thursday despite a government cap on power tariffs that cut 5 billion euros off its share value in June.

The company said first-half net profit rose 8.3 percent to 3.1 billion euros ($4.15 billion) as shorter maintenance outages for its nuclear plants boosted its power output.

But sales were down 3.8 percent to 36.1 billion euros, mainly due to a mild winter, which reduced power demand for heating. EDF shares were up about 4 percent at midday.

Chief executive Henri Proglio told reporters he expected an increase in regulated power prices later this year, but played down its impact on this year's earnings.

"I cannot speculate on what the government will decide in October. There will be an increase. By how much, we will see," he said.

On June 19, Energy Minister Segolene Royal announced she would block a 5 percent increase in EDF's regulated power tariffs that had been scheduled to take effect in August, which sent EDF stock 8 percent lower in record trading volumes.

The government later said the increase would be moved to the autumn and would be less than 5 percent, but has not specified the size of the increase. EDF stock has not recovered.

In early July, Royal reiterated that electricity tariffs will not rise this year. The new French tariff policy is part of a Europe-wide trend to cap energy prices as governments try to bolster consumer spending in the face of stubbornly high unemployment.

Proglio said a five percent increase would have boosted EDF earnings by 500 million euros in the second half of this year, but that even without it, EDF would meet its targets.

EDF said in a statement it still expected organic growth of at least 3 percent in its core earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), excluding its Italian Edison unit.

EDF's first-half EBITDA rose 3.1 percent to 9.6 billion euros and 5.6 percent to 9.2 billion euros, excluding Edison.

EDF also said that a State Council ruling cancelling government-ordered price caps for the 2012-2013 period would generate some 850 million euros in extra revenue via catch-up payments for its customers.

Royal has said these could total 27 euros per household and would be spread out over 18 months.

EDF said nuclear output reached 208.8 terawatt/hours, up 1.6 TWh or 0.8 percent, following a plan to control the duration of planned outages. In the first half of the year, the average duration of outages was half as long as a year earlier.

For 2014, EDF reiterated its nuclear output target of between 410 and 415 TWh.

EU DECISION

Asked whether EDF and the government - which controls 84.5 percent of its capital - were working on a succession plan for November, when his tenure as CEO ends, Proglio said that he hopes to continue in his post but that it would be up to the government to decide.

Proglio also said he expected the outgoing European Commission to make a decision about EDF's 19 billion euro project to build two nuclear reactors in Hinkley Point, Britain, before a new commission is appointed this autumn.

"I expect it is most likely that the commission will make a decision before it leaves," he said, adding that he was confident of getting the EU's green light.

EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia said in February that Britain must clarify why the project needs state aid and has sent the UK government a letter criticising the project's planned power price guarantees and loan support.

EDF's share price fall of the past weeks has made it Europe's second-biggest utility again, after gas and power group GDF Suez, with market capitalisation of 60 and 64.4 billion euros respectively. GDF stock is up 13 percent in the year to date, while EDF is down 5 percent.

But EDF, which produces power mainly with nuclear reactors and is less exposed to volatile hydrocarbon fuel prices than GDF Suez, is still better valued than its peer. It has a price/book ratio of 1.3 compared to 0.98 for GDF, Thomson Reuters Eikon data showed. (1 US dollar = 0.7465 euro) (Editing by Catherine Evans)

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