German energy giant EON looks beyond Europe

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Germany's EON, the world's biggest private utilities group, unveiled a major strategic shift on Wednesday, turning its focus away from Europe and toward emerging markets to restore flagging profits.

The company, with annual sales of 80 billion euros (110 billion dollars), warned profits would fall in coming years and announced plans to offload 15 billion euros' worth of assets by 2013.

"Europe's main priority is to make its energy supply more efficient and climate friendlier. But other parts of the world still have a lot of catching up to do in terms of expanding their generation capacity," it said.

"EON is a leading expert in building conventional and renewable generating facilities. Going forward, we intend to leverage our experience and expertise not only in Russia and North America but also in two other regions."

According to press reports, these regions are Asia and South America.

EON did not say which assets were on the block but press reports have identified its power grid in Britain, thought to be worth about four billion euros, and its 3.5-percent stake in Russian gas giant Gazprom.

Finance director Marcus Schenck gave little away at a news conference on Wednesday, saying only that the company was "studying all the options" with regard to its British grid.

The new strategy is motivated by the need to restore profitability, with the company indicating that operating profit would fall in 2011 and 2012 before returning to the level of 2010 in 2013.

It warned of "considerable business challenges" in the years ahead such as German plans for a tax on nuclear fuel, the auctioning of EU carbon allowances and tougher conditions in the gas market.

The company said in October that it was being forced to write down the value of assets Italy, Spain, and France on its accounts by 2.6 billion euros, and on Thursday EON said its third-quarter loss was 389 million euros.

It said its dividend payout would fall from 1.50 euros per share this year to 1.30 euros per share for 2011 and 2012.

The proportion of its profits that it pays out to shareholders would remain at 50 to 60 percent, it said, indicating that it expects earnings to be lower in 2011 and 2012.

The asset sales are also aimed at reducing its debt pile, estimated at 45 billion euros (62 billion dollars), built up in recent years with acquisitions across Europe.

EON also aims to improve profits through a simplified organisational setup and renewed efforts to enhance efficiency. This will deliver 600 million euros in annual earnings improvements by 2013, it said.

"EON will become more focused and at the same time more international. In Europe, we're going to concentrate on what we can do best and on areas where we see the biggest opportunities for profitable growth," the firm said.

"Outside Europe, we're going to achieve additional business growth by deploying our expertise in areas where we're a true outperformer," chief executive Johannes Teyssen said.

EON's shares rose more than four percent on the news.

© 2010 AFP

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