February difficult month for Meridian

Damian Foster.
Damian Foster.
Meridian Energy had another difficult month in February despite growing its customer base strongly, Forsyth Barr broker Damian Foster said yesterday.

The overall performance was ''slightly weak'', as Meridian decided to hold back water.

Forsyth Barr estimated Meridian was short by about 11GW of generation, not much. It was not unusual for Meridian to run its book short, he said.

''Meridian has some catching up to do in the coming months to hit our 2018 financial year target.''

Forsyth Barr was forecasting an operating profit of $635millon for the full year. The second-half New Zealand energy margin was tracking about $14million below the previous corresponding period.

March and April last year were strong months and Mr Foster was predicting a flat second-half performance by Meridian.

But with lake levels back to normal, the company was in a much better position to hit the target.

The company added nearly 1900 customers in February.

Retail sales volumes fell 13% to 438GWh, something expected, following the significant drop in irrigation load.

With low-margin volumes from irrigation and corporate customers falling, the average selling price increased 3%.

The Australian business was ''solid'', Mr Foster said.

Retail sales increased 15%, due mainly to customer growth.

Meridian chief executive Neal Barclay said in a release to the NZX national hydro storage for the month ended March 11 increased from 92% to 107% of historical average.

South Island storage sat at 100% of average and North Island storage was 158% of average on March 11.

Meridian's February 2018 monthly inflows were 148% of historical average.

The company's Waitaki catchment storage at the end of February was 96% of historical average and the Waiau catchment storage was above average in the period.

Demand in the last 12 months was 1.1% higher than the preceding 12 months, he said.

The average load during February from New Zealand Aluminium Smelter's Bluff smelter was at the 572 base quantity of the agreement.

The company's earnings fell in the final six months of 2017, largely reflecting reduced hydro generation caused by an extended period of dry weather that broke only when large rain dumps arrived in the southern lakes during ex-cyclone Fehi, which hit most of New Zealand in late January and early February, leading authorities to declare a state of emergency. Later in February, ex-cyclone Gita brought more rain.

Mr Barclay said national electricity demand in February was 2.4% lower than in the same month a year earlier, and all the reduction was in the South Island.

Retail sales volumes dropped 13% from February 2017. Residential and small to mid-sized business sales volumes were down 16% per cent on lower irrigation-driven agriculture use. Corporate sales fell 6.4%, having received a boost a year earlier, when the power company signed a large short-term customer.

So far this financial year, which ends June 30, retail sales volumes are 7.1% higher than in the same period last year.


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