May 8, 2014 / 6:50 AM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 2-Enel reaffirms targets, setting tough task for new CEO

* New CEO could have to review targets - analysts

* Q1 core earnings beat forecast (Recasts, adds CFO comment, analysts, shares)

By Stephen Jewkes

ROME, May 8 (Reuters) - Italian energy group Enel reaffirmed its full-year targets on Thursday, leaving its CEO-in-waiting facing a daunting challenge at Europe’s most indebted utility.

Enel, like other big European utilities, has seen its traditional generation business undermined by a toxic mix of low wholesale power prices, weak demand across Europe and a boom in rival renewable energy capacity.

The state-controlled group, which owns over 92 percent of Spain’s Endesa, cut its dividend for 2013 in March and said it would mothball 8 gigawatts of capacity in its home market and Spain.

“We are well on track to reach our year-end targets,” Enel CFO Luigi Ferraris told analysts after Thursday’s first-quarter results.

Some analysts, however, are less confident. Credit Suisse this month said the utility’s profitability targets were at risk and the new CEO might have to review them later in the year.

Enel’s long-standing Chief Executive Fulvio Conti is due to step down this month to be replaced by Francesco Starace, currently head of renewable energy group Enel Green Power , which is controlled by Enel. Starace’s appointment is expected to be confirmed shortly after the company’s shareholder meeting on May 22.

‘AGGRESSIVE’ TARGETS

Starace will face a full-year target of about 15.5 billion euros ($21.6 billion) in core earnings, against 17 billion euros last year, and net debt of around 37 billion euros by year-end.

Net debt stood at 41.54 billion euros at the end of March, up from 39.71 billion euros at the end of 2013. The group aims to sell about 4 billion euros of assets this year to help it hit the 2014 target.

“Starace will probably have to look at the targets since they are aggressive and they leave him with little upside,” said one Milan-based analyst who asked to remain anonymous.

In the first quarter earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) edged up 0.5 percent to 4.04 billion euros, above an average forecast of 3.86 billion in a Reuters poll of six banks and brokerages.

At 1027 GMT Enel shares were up 2.6 percent, outperforming the European utility index, which was up 0.45 percent. ($1 = 0.7183 Euros) (Editing by David Goodman)

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