Owner Centrica’s shrunken share price shows its investors are losing faith.
British Gas customers are fleeing at a rate of only 93,000 a month this year, as opposed to the 100,000-plus that were deserting on average every month during 2017.entrica is making progress, apparently. Look,
As corporate boasts go, this is pretty desperate stuff. Indeed, if you cut the numbers a different way, the rush for the exit is intensifying: there have already been more escapees in the second half of 2018 than in the first.
All big six energy suppliers are losing customers because switching to smaller independents is suddenly fashionable. But the really bad news for the old guard is that the process is happening even before the government-imposed price cap arrives to take a bite out of profits next year.
On the plus side, Centrica can claim genuine success in signing up punters to its “connected home” services. But a shrinking pool of retail customers represents a serious long-term headache that cost-cutting can only partially fix. The consumer market looks unstable. That’s a problem if, like Centrica’s chief executive, Iain Conn, your strategy is to “reposition the portfolio towards the customer.”
Still, at least the gas exploration and energy-generation divisions offer greater stability, right? Not on current form.
The other revelation in Thursday’s trading update is weaker than expected production from the gas fields and “outages” at the Hunterston B and Dungeness C nuclear power stations, where Centrica has exposure via its 20% stake in British Energy.
The combined cash flow impact will be small – just £50m or so. But, at an earnings level, Centrica’s numbers suddenly look horribly tight. The plan is to pay a 12p-per-share dividend this year from expected earnings of just 11.5p, so you can understand why investors fear for their income in the medium-term. A dividend yield on the shares of 9% underlines the point.
At a push, one can see why management thinks the dividend arithmetic still works. Add up capital expenditure (£1.1bn), the dividend (£600m), interest costs (£300m) and pension fund repair (£100m) and you still have £100m of spare change if operating cash flow arrives, as still predicted, at £2.2bn-ish.
Conn, who cut the dividend by 30% soon after he arrived from BP in 2015, cannot afford any more bad news if he is to avoid a repeat. Unfortunately, bad news is mostly what Centrica shareholders have been hearing in the past year. As the shrunken share price shows, they’re losing faith.