March 18, 2020 / 7:49 AM / 11 days ago

UPDATE 1-Hydropower producer Verbund prepares for falling electricity prices

(Adds spokeswoman, detail, background)

VIENNA, March 18 (Reuters) - Austrian hydropower producer Verbund said on Wednesday it expects its profit to grow more slowly this year or even fall due to the coronavirus outbreak after it posted a 28% increase in 2019 thanks to a sharp rise in electricity prices.

Verbund is preparing for wholesale prices to fall in coming months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a spokeswoman said. The development was currently very difficult to estimate, she added.

The Alpine country’s largest utility gave a range of 510-630 million euros ($561-$693 million) for its 2020 adjusted group result after reaching 555 million euros last year.

Verbund said it would propose a dividend of 0.69 euros per share for 2019 and plans a payout ratio of 40-50% for 2020.

The utility, which is in exclusive negotiations with energy group OMV about buying a 51% stake in gas pipeline operator Gas Connect Austria, posted a free cash flow after dividends of 639 million euros.

Its net debt/EBITDA ratio was at 1.9%.

$1 = 0.9085 euros Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; editing by Michelle Martin

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