As is often the case in life sometimes, enough elements will build up and move you to look more deeply at something. Your own health could be a good example you might notice a few warning signs that prompt you to visit your GP! Today, though, it involves re-visiting Centrica (LSE: CNA) and SSE (LSE: SSE).
The British gas and electricity companies have both had a few things going for them recently, but also have quite a number of things stacking up against them so its worthwhile getting out the magnifying glass.
Around 50 energy companies lined up last month to take part in an auction. Why? Well, in order to secure capacity payments. In return, the companies make a promise to keep their plants available during periods of peak demand.
Centrica secured 49 gigawatts of capacity were for delivery in 2018-19 at a price of 19.40 per kilowatt. Its stock rose 0.5% on the news that it was a beneficiary of some of the available pay-outs. Considering the demise of its share price over the past six months, it must have been cold comfort for investors. Energy security is an issue in Britain but, despite the hype, its probably not something that will make or break Centrica in the next decade.
SSE said it was pleased that the majority of its plants were successful in the first Capacity Market Auction but said it would continue to analyse market conditions and opportunities for all their plants going forward. Lead balloon, methinks
What could boost Centricas bottom line is lower wholesale gas prices. Just like oil, the price of natural gas has fallen significantly over the past 12 months. Outgoing CEO Sam Laidlaw would like to pass that onto customers, but says the governments financial commitment to wind farm projects and green energy is hampering that, commenting:
By the end of this decade, under current plans, well be spending 7.6 billion a year through the levy control framework, much of it to support wind turbines that have not come down in cost.
In addition, if Labour wins the next election, it plans to impose a two-year price freeze on energy companies. The result of all this of course is a price squeeze for Centrica.
As far as SSE is concerned, the energy provider announced last year that it would put a freeze on its household electricity and gas prices until at least January 2016. Thats the longest price freeze the energy market has seen to date. Expect the company to be heavily focused on costs over the medium term.
Centricas US operations are set to contribute further growth for the company in 2015. Laidlaw has gone so far as to say that this year Centrica will be selling more gas in North America than in the UK. The energy company will also benefit from the rising US dollar and the growth of the US economy. However, SSE doesnt have US exposure.
Centrica has issued three profit warnings within the past 12 months. With a price-to-earnings ratio of 15, a dividend – by one measure of 6%, and dividend cover of 1.5, its clear the company is by no means on its last legs. However, any skim of recent news and youll notice Centricas had its fair share of challenges over the past 12 months.
Centricas customer satisfaction statistics seem to be going in the wrong direction, too. The gas company said last week that its lost 50,000 British Gas customer accounts since July.
In addition, the falling price of gas, while potentially helping to bring down costs, is hurting the companys exploration activities. Thats a real sore point for the utility company.
Centricas got more than a few challenges ahead of it. Itll be interesting to see whether a new CEO can make the future brighter for the company.
SSEs current principal financial objective is to deliver annual above-inflation increases in its dividend. That should bring a smile to the face of any retiree (especially with a yield of close to 5.5%).
Theres a bit going on there. Hopefully that gets you up to speed somewhat on two very competitive players in this sector.
In the current climate utilities stocks have become quite attractive. Some of them offer solid dividends and can be the right sort of stocks to set you up for attractive retirement income. What other stocks also offer up attractive numbers for retirees or long-term investors?
What if I said the Fools have already come up with a list of well-rounded stocks for your retirement basket? It’s right here! It’s called simply: 5 Shares To Retire On. Click here for your copy. There’s no time to waste and the best part is that it’s 100% FREE.
Get FREE Issues of The Motley Fool Collective
Get straightforward advice on whats really happening with the stock markets, direct to your inbox. Help yourself with our FREE email newsletter designed to help you protect and grow your portfolio wealth.