* Plans to pay out 75 pct of profit, up from 70 pct
* Says will invest 2.1 bln euros to 2015
* Forecasts net profit up 5.5 pct this year
* Shares up 1.6 pct at 18.15 euros (Adds detail, chairman, CEO and analyst comment)
By Tracy Rucinski
MADRID, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Spanish gas distributor Enagas will raise the proportion of profit it pays in dividends while scaling back investments over the next three years.
The company’s dividend strategy is in stark contrast to that of others in recession-hit Spain. Telefonica scrapped its dividend last year and energy companies Repsol and Iberdrola are paying shareholders partly in stock to conserve capital.
Enagas, a defensive company with a shareholder base largely consisting of investment funds, said on Wednesday that it would pay out 75 percent of profit in dividends in 2013, up from 70 percent last year.
It is an international leader in the construction, operation and maintenance of LNG regasification terminals with regulated revenues, but its business has suffered the impact of falling gas demand during Spain’s five-year economic downturn, forcing it to cut earnings targets more than once.
Shares in Enagas, which outperformed Spain’s blue-chip index last year with a 13 percent gain, gained 1.6 percent on Wednesday to close at 18.15 euros.
“Enagas is one of the most attractive combinations of income and low-risk growth in the (European utilities) sector in our view,” JP Morgan analysts said.
The company said that it will invest 2.1 billion euros ($2.8 billion) over three years, setting aside nearly half of that for growth outside Spain in markets where it is already present, such as Chile and Mexico.
The figure represents a drop from the average of 780 million euros ($1 billion) a year that the company invested between 2010 and 2012.
Chairman Antonio Llarden said that the company’s position as a global leader in regasification plants will help its push for an increased presence abroad as the need for these plants grows with an expected rise in gas demand.
The company is studying potential overseas investments this year but will refrain from deals until 2014, said Chief Executive Marcelino Oreja, when such capital expenditure will push the ratio of debt to core earnings ratio to 4 percent from 3.8 percent in 2013.
The remaining 1.3 billion euros of its planned investments, however, will be on regulated assets in Spain.
Enagas said that it expects net profit to rise by 5.5 percent in 2013 and by an annual average of 4 percent over the three-year period. ($1 = 0.7487 euros) (Additional reporting by Andres Gonzalez; Editing by Jane Merriman and David Goodman)