Pennon reported a 2.9% increase in revenue in the year, with underlying profits before tax up 3.5% to £258.8m as both South West Water and Viridor delivered positive results.
The group announced a final dividend of 26.62p per share, taking the dividend for the full year to 38.59p, up 7.3% and in line with the policy of growing the dividend 4 percentage points above RPI inflation.
The shares rose 6.4% in early trading.
Pennon consists of two main divisions; water and waste management.
The core water business has delivered impressive results. A rigid control of costs has allowed it to generate some of the best regulated returns in the sector, while also earning rewards from Ofwat for exceeding targets.
Viridor collects household waste, sorts it, then recycles as much as possible. The residual waste is burned in energy recovery facilities (ERFs) to generate electricity. Progress here hasn't been entirely smooth, with construction of the facility at Glasgow encountering problems. Pricing also looks difficult, but cost savings are helping Pennon cope with the pressures.
However, the regulated water business remains the senior partner, and is therefore crucial to the group's dividend plans. As with most utilities, the potential for the stock to yield a reliable income is probably the main attraction.
The prospective yield is 5.7% and the plan is to increase the payout by RPI inflation plus 4 percentage points each year. Pennon's continued delivery of double digit return on regulated equity supports these goals. Regulatory conditions are expected to be tougher from 2020 though, and we haven't had an update on what that might mean for the dividend yet.
There's a couple of other clouds on the horizon too. The political climate is far from welcoming, with a debate about nationalisation resurfacing for the first time in decades. In addition, UK interest rates now look like they might rise quicker than expected, which has also impacted the shares.
Higher rates mean the interest on parts of Pennon's debt becomes more of a burden, and increases the appeal of bonds, traditionally the preserve of income-seeking investors, relative to income led stocks and shares.
The twin headwinds of the regulator and interest rates could cause the share price to shift. But putting the external pressures to one side, which Pennon can't control in any case, operating performance remains solid. That should mean the dividend is well underpinned - for now at least.
Full Year Results
Revenues rose 2.9% at South West Water to £571m. A more modest increase in costs, up 1.3%, supported a 4.7% increase in profit before tax, to £181m. The division received £2.6m in net ODI (outcome delivery incentive) payments from the regulator following a good performance in areas from water quality and leakage to sewer flooding.
Waste management business Viridor saw revenues slip 1% to £786m, but profits before tax rose 17.2% to £70.8m as availability of the groups Energy Recovery Facilities (ERFs) improved.
Operational ERFs now have a total capacity of 2.1 million tonnes, with four more facilities under construction. Landfill volumes declined slightly, with average fees unchanged, while recycling markets have remained challenging.
Group capital expenditure was 3.5% ahead of last year at £398.2m, driven by a £167.6m investment in the Viridor ERF portfolio - although Pennon expects to be able to recover £68.7m of this from Interserve following trouble with the construction of the Glasgow ERF. South West Water's capital expenditure for the year was £184m, slightly behind last year.
The Return on Regulated Equity, as calculated by regulator Ofwat, improved by 1 percentage point to 12.5%.
Pennon expects investment between 2020 and 2025 to hit £1bn, in line with the new PR19 regulatory environment.
Net debt rose 5.1% to £2.8bn, while interest costs rose £15.7m to £74.5m as the cost of index linked debt rose.
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