British Gas Owner Centrica Lifted by Good First-Half Performance

LONDON -- Centrica (LSE: CNA.L  ) turned in a good set of half-year figures this morning, lifting its share price just over 1% on opening. Adjusted earnings rose 14% to 767 million pounds, giving adjusted earnings per share of 14.8 pence, although these figures may be flattered by a return to more typical level of U.K. residential energy consumption, compared to the first half of 2011, when revenue was hit by an unusually mild winter.

Upstream production benefited from a combination of new investment and expansion of Norwegian operations via 1 billion pounds of acquisitions, with substantial progress reported towards Centrica's annual production target of 75 mmboe.

Looking ahead, new gas development projects will bring 140 mmboe of reserves into production, and the 1.4 billion pound Cygnus project -- the largest gas discovery in the Southern North Sea in 25 years, which will produce 5% of the U.K.'s total gas production (or enough gas to supply around 1.5 million homes) -- remains on track, following the recent announcement from the U.K. government on the shallow water gas field allowance.

With a greener tinge, Centrica's 1 billion pound Lincolnshire wind farm is due to commence generation soon, supplying around 200,000 homes, and planning consent has been awarded for 580MW Race Bank wind farm, with a final investment decision expected in Q1 2013.

Chief executive Sam Laidlaw commented:

Centrica has performed well in the first half of 2012 despite challenging market conditions, although the increase in earnings must be placed in the context of unusually low levels of consumption and profits in the UK in the first half of 2011. We continue to focus on high standards of service, while ensuring that we run the business as efficiently as possible for the benefit of our customers. We have made significant investments to secure energy supplies for the UK -- and will continue to invest across the Group, where we see value. As a result, we have a stronger business that is delivering benefits for all our stakeholders.

With generally good results, a positive outlook, and a forecast yield of 5.2% for the full year, Centrica certainly looks attractive.

Utility companies like Centrica are often seen as dull -- but in times of economic uncertainty they can provide a solid defensive element for your portfolio, providing steady growth and a healthy dividend. For details of other utilities -- and two other sectors -- download our free "Top Sectors for 2012 report" now.

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Jon doesn't own shares in Centrica. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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