May 13, 2014 / 11:36 AM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 2-Czech utility CEZ posts drop in quarterly profit, flags risks to outlook

* Net profit CZK 9.91 bln vs CZK 10.93 bln in poll

* Confirms outlook, says risk of impairments not included

* CEZ feeling strain of weaker power prices

* Cuts domestic electricity production outlook (Adds CFO, plant upgrade delay, shares)

By Jason Hovet and Robert Muller

PRAGUE, May 13 (Reuters) - Central Europe’s largest listed utility CEZ reported a 44 percent drop in first-quarter net profit, blaming lower electricity prices and sales in a milder winter, and flagged risks to its outlook in overseas markets.

The Czech utility producer, like European peers, is feeling the strain of wholesale electricity prices that have fallen by more than half in the five years since the global economic crisis.

It said on Tuesday that profit fell to 9.91 billion crowns ($497.43 million) in the first quarter from 17.81 billion a year earlier when one-off items had also lifted results.

That was below a Reuters poll forecast for attributable net profit of 10.93 billion crowns.

CEZ shares were down 2.3 percent at midday but have gained 2 percent over the past year.

The majority state-owned company confirmed it expected net profit before adjusting for minority interests to fall for a fifth straight year to 27.5 billion in 2014, just above half of the record 51.9 billion crown profit it posted in 2009.

But the company said in a presentation accompanying results that the outlook did not take into account impairments of assets whose impact “cannot be quantified at the moment”.

“The likelihood of domestic impairments is much, much lower than abroad. We are mainly talking about the Bulgarian, Romanian regulatory framework,” Chief Financial Officer Martin Novak told reporters. “It is a risk of an impairment.”

CEZ took 8.4 billion crowns in impairment charges in the second half of 2013.

The company, which earns the bulk of its revenue in its home Czech market, is fighting in Bulgaria to keep its power distribution license because of a dispute with state power provider NEK over payments.

Chief Executive Daniel Benes reiterated the company expected to keep its license.

Bulgaria’s competition watchdog on Tuesday also accused CEZ and two other foreign-owned power distributors of abusing their dominant market position by setting unreasonably high prices for access to their power network to Internet, TV and telephone providers.

In Romania, the state has cut support for renewable energy, affecting CEZ’s wind farms there.

The Bulgarian and Romanian markets made up 15 percent of CEZ’s total revenue in 2013.

CEZ said another risk was a delay in the completion of renewals of coal-fired plants. CEZ’s sales and strategy director, Pavel Cyrani, said the completion of an upgrade at its Prunerov coal power plant may be delayed by several months from a deadline toward the end of the year.

CEZ cut its domestic electricity output forecast to 60.9 TWh from 62.2 TWh but production at its nuclear and coal power plants should stay stable.

The company said it had pre-sold 77 percent of its planned 2015 output at an average price of 40.5 euros per MWh.

First-quarter revenue fell 11 percent to 53.16 billion crowns. ($1 = 19.9225 Czech crowns) (Editing by Erica Billingham and Susan Fenton)

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