May 27, 2019 / 6:25 AM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 2-Czech utility CEZ could exit most foreign markets - CEO

(Adds comments on nuclear strategy, details, shares)

PRAGUE, May 27 (Reuters) - Czech utility CEZ plans to sell assets in Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Poland in order to focus on its home market, the chief executive told the daily Hospodarske Noviny.

The plans reported on Monday would be a further shift by majority state-owned CEZ towards retrenching in the Czech market after a Balkan expansion that ran into trouble in some markets.

“Within the framework of this new strategy, we have an ambition to leave Bulgaria in the coming years,” Chief Executive Daniel Benes told the daily in an interview.

“We are considering an exit from Romania, from Turkey, and we are thinking about leaving Poland, where we have two coal-fired power plants, as part of lower CO2 emissions in the group.”

Shareholders in CEZ, which is 70 percent owned by the state, would vote on the new strategy at the annual general meeting on June 26, Benes said.

CEZ is gearing up for a potential multi-billion dollar construction of new nuclear power units in the coming decades.

The utility’s new approach will focus on modernising its distribution and developing its renewables and energy service businesses in the Czech market, along with energy services in neighbouring countries Slovakia, Germany and Poland.

Benes said the sale of assets in these markets could raise “many tens of billions of crowns”.

CEZ shares rose 0.4% in early trade on Monday but are still down almost 6% in the past year. The Stoxx European Utilities index has gained almost 6%.

CEZ has already started its foreign exit. It entered exclusive talks in April with Bulgaria’s Eurohold to sell assets in that country after failing to complete a sale last year.

In Germany, it owns wind farms with capacity of 135 megawatts and wants to build another 200 MW. Benes said CEZ would see that expansion through and then decide whether to sell or not, while French projects would also be maintained for now.

Benes repeated a goal of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) reaching 75 billion crowns ($3.26 billion) in 2024-2025, up from 49.5 billion crowns in 2018.

About half of CEZ’s traditional power production comes from nuclear. The utility has been stuck in talks with the state, its 70% shareholder which has refused to provide price guarantees, over how to finance a new nuclear plant.

In February, the government unveiled a plan under which the state would control construction after signing a contract with CEZ and could halt the project if power prices do not support it.

Benes said contract details could be worked out by the end of the summer.

$1 = 23.0410 Czech crowns Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka Editing by Rashmi Aich and Edmund Blair

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