All-renewables electricity generator and retailer Meridian Energy announced an 11 per cent fall in net profit after tax of $104 million for the six months ended December 31 but cited sufficient strength in underlying earnings to lift the interim dividend and declare a special dividend of 2.4 cents per share.
Driving the fall were a $13 million increase in operating and transmission expenses and a $32 million non-cash change in the value of financial instruments, which in Meridian's case tend to reflect changes in the value of its contracts to supply the country's largest electricity consumer, the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.
The result was achieved on increased revenue, or 'energy margin' as Meridian styles it, from $455 million in the same period last year to $474 million in the period under review.
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Underlying NPAT, which strips out the financial instruments impact, was $122 million, up from $115 million in the prior corresponding period, and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and financial instrument valuation changes were $332 million, from $324 million in the previous half year.
Chief executive Mark Binns described the profit as "another solid interim result" achieved "mainly from increased retail sales volume", with residential and small business sales up 6 percent and the customer base for Meridian's Powershop retail operation in Australia growing by nearly a third to 63,000 customers.
Sales volumes to corporate and industrial customers rose by 4 percent, in contrast to competitors Contact Energy and Mighty River Power, which have both reported cutting industrial sales volumes in the first six months of the current financial year as they shed low-margin contracts.
Due to the strong trading of the company, Meridian will also pay a special dividend of 2.4 cents per share, equating to $62.5 million, as part of our five-year capital management plan.
Meridian will pay a 5.1 cents per share dividend on April 15, 85 percent imputed and 6 percent higher than last year.
"Due to the strong trading of the company, Meridian will also pay a special dividend of 2.4 cents per share, equating to $62.5 million, as part of our five-year capital management plan," said Binns, bringing the total distributions to the 51 percent government-controlled company to $125 million, or 4.9 cents per share, since August 2015.
On the future of Tiwai Point, Binns and chair Chris Moller say in their half year report that 2016 is "shaping up to be a seminal year for our largest customer", with global aluminium trading conditions remaining difficult and the Electricity Authority scheduled to produce a decision soon on how national grid transmission charges will be apportioned in the future. The EA's recommended approach, widely opposed by the industry but supported by Meridian and the Tiwai operators, could save the smelter as much as $60 million a year in operational costs.
The shares last traded at $2.34, and have fallen 4.2 percent so far this year.