GDF Suez Earnings Decline 16% After Mild Winter Curbs Gas Demand

GDF Suez SA’s first-quarter earnings fell 16 percent as a mild French winter cut demand for fuel for heating from the owner of Europe’s biggest natural-gas network.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization slid to 4.2 billion euros ($5.82 billion) from 5 billion euros a year earlier, the utility based in Courbevoie outside Paris said today in a statement. The result compares with the 4.28 billion-euro average of nine analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. GDF affirmed its full-year forecasts.

The drop “is mainly explained by the unfavorable impact of weather on natural gas sales,” it said in the statement. The utility also suffered from lower European power prices, it said.

GDF Suez, operating installations from atomic reactors in Belgium to offshore platforms and wind farms, has been hurt by weakening demand for gas-fired power, leading it to close or mothball more than 11,000 megawatts of capacity. Chief Executive Officer Gerard Mestrallet has sought to expand in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East to counter the slowdown.

The utility today kept earnings targets for net recurring profit of 3.3 billion euros to 3.7 billion euros this year, from 3.4 billion euros last year. The goal is based on an outlook for full-year Ebitda of 12.3 billion euros to 13.3 billion euros.

Net debt was 26.7 billion euros at the end of March, down 2.5 billion euros from the end of last year, GDF Suez said.

Weakness in Europe forced GDF Suez to book a writedown of 14.9 billion euros in February, mostly on regional power assets. Mestrallet called the situation “serious and long-lasting.”

While GDF said at the time it would maintain a dividend of 1.50 euros a share for its 2013 earnings, the payout for 2014 to 2016 would be a minimum of 1 euro.

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