Contact investors in line for boost

Fund manager says there is scope to lift the firm's dividend

Contact had recognised it needed a more flexible mix of fuels and generation assets to respond effectively to changes in the New Zealand energy market. Photo / Supplied
Contact had recognised it needed a more flexible mix of fuels and generation assets to respond effectively to changes in the New Zealand energy market. Photo / Supplied

Contact Energy's 75,000 shareholders can look forward to bonus returns from the company next year but how they will be paid is still being decided.

The company is nearing the end of a big capital spending programme and will have spare cash next year.

"It's a high class problem to think about how we will deal with that increased cash flow with reduced capex in the years ahead," chairman Grant King told shareholders at the company's annual meeting in Auckland.

Following the meeting chief executive Dennis Barnes said the company had issued about 100 million extra shares through its profit distribution plan - where shareholders got more shares rather than dividends - and equity raising during the past five years.

The company paid a dividend of 23c, or 93 per cent of underlying earnings, a share last year and at that level would have cash left over.

This could be paid to shareholders in cash, a share buyback or by paying a bigger dividend.

Barnes said the company did not have a preference yet. It would consult investors and make a decision taking into account its cash position.

Regardless, the company was ending its profit distribution plan which required shareholders to contact it to opt out of receiving extra shares if they wanted a cash dividend.

Investor and Herald business columnist Brian Gaynor said there was scope to lift the dividend above 30c a share, if the company chose to pay it that way.

Contact's accounts show it has imputation credits of more than $245 million available to shareholders.

Gaynor said investors felt the company was going in the right direction, it had sorted out its portfolio of assets which were in "pretty good shape".

King said Contact had five years ago recognised that it needed a more flexible mix of fuels and generation assets "to respond effectively to changes in the New Zealand energy market".

Contact's underlying earnings for the year to June 30 increased by 17 per cent from the previous year to $176 million.

It had also reversed steep customer losses, adding 5000 over the final 10 months of 2012 taking total numbers to 560,000 throughout the country.

King said the company welcomed partial privatisation of state-owned power companies which meant the entire industry will be in the full glare of scrutiny from investors, customers and the public.

Barnes said the company was watching the Maori challenge to the asset sale process but did not believe it would have any material impact on Contact.

When the company was corporatised in the mid 1980s and sold a decade later land it owned had been covered by provisions that allowed the company to be compensated if for any reason it had to be taken back by the government.

Contact's most significant land was the site of the Wairakei geothermal station but it was considered highly unlikely it would be affected by fallout from the current dispute.

"It's all far too early," Barnes said. "We keep an eye on it and we don't believe it will be material. If you look at whenever there's a significant announcement about it our share price is not affected."

Contact shares closed down 0.75 per cent to $5.31.

- NZ Herald

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