British utility National Grid (NGG) , owner and operator of electricity generation and transmission assets across New York state and Massachusetts, announced a strong set of full-year financial numbers on Thursday morning.
Operating profits were up by 6% to £4 billion ($5.9 billion), slightly beating analysts' consensus. Profit before tax beat the consensus by 2.5%, when it rose to nearly £3.2 billion, representing an increase of 9%. Earnings per share also came in ahead of expectations after rising by 10% to reach 63.5 pence.
Despite decent levels of earnings growth emerging from a utility operating in a troubled sector, the shares fell by as much as 3% in early London trading.
"The shares have had a strong run since early April, rising by 6%, which is good for a utility stock...this is just profit taking by investors," explained Chris Beauchamp, senior analyst at retail derivatives brokerage IG Index in London.
In response to what was a strong year for the group, management increased the full year dividend by 1.1% to 43.34 pence, which is ahead of inflation and implies dividend cover of 1.5 times.
Another bright spot in the results update was the group's return on equity numbers for the period. While, in the U.S. division returns fell slightly, ROE at the group level rose notably to 12.3% from 11.8%, prompting analysts at Jefferies to describe it as the "envy of the sector" in a note emailed out to clients after the release.
Stronger returns will be particularly welcomed by investors given the degree to which interference by regulators, particularly in regards to pricing practices in the industry, has generated concern over the outlook for future revenue and earnings growth.
Ofgem, Britain's energy regulator, rejected pressures from some industry observers and pressure groups for an unscheduled price review.
While the regulator rejected calls for a wide-ranging review, it did agree to investigate pricing practices within a small chunk of National Grid's U.K. electricity and gas transmission business. The associated business segments under investigation account for around 10% of the company's U.K. electricity and gas transmission revenue.