Cold Snap Benefits British Gas Owner Centrica

LONDON -- Centrica  (LSE: CNA  ) , owner of British Gas, this morning released its final results for the year ending Dec. 31, and revealed rising profits all round as the colder-than-usual winter spell hit the United Kingdom and forced customers to use more gas for heating.

British Gas itself saw an 11% increase in residential energy supply, from £544 million in 2011 to £606 million in 2012, while its residential service (which includes boiler repairment) lifted 16% to £312 million.

Centrica's overall operations -- which includes Centrica Energy, Centrica Storage and Direct Energy -- saw a 5% boost in revenue, rising from £22.8 billion in 2011 to £23.9 billion. Total adjusted operating profit increased 14% year on year, coming in at £2.74 billion in 2012 compared to £2.42 billion the previous year.

Chief executive Sam Laidlaw commented: "We have taken the lead during 2012 in helping more households save energy and supporting the people who need the most help. It's important that Centrica makes a fair and reasonable return so that we can continue to make our contribution to society and to invest."

Today's news follows the furor over British Gas lifting its gas and electricity prices by 6% in November; however, Laidlaw stressed that this increase was lower than any of its competitors, while the CEO also told the BBC that the firm's profit margins per household "actually went down".

Investors saw earnings per share rise 5%, up to 27.1 pence, while the full-year dividend increased 6% to 16.4 pence. Centrica also announced that it is planning to return £500 million to shareholders through a share buyback scheme.

Today's share price of 342.89, a 1.8% or 6.21 pence dip on yesterday's closing price, means that Centrica returns a decent yield of 4.7%. With the cold snap continuing into the first two months of 2013 -- and possibly the third, much to this Fool's dismay -- then profits could be set to continue to rise for the British Gas owner, which would make Centrica a decent prospect as an income share.

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