As you might expect from a utility company that does most of its business in a highly regulated market, National Grid's (NYSE:NGG) first-half results were a solid improvement over the year prior's. What really stole the headlines, though, was that management announced it would be selling part of its UK Gas Distribution system. Here's a quick snapshot of what happened this quarter and what to expect in the future. 

National Grid results: The raw numbers

MetricQ3 2015Q3 2014Change
Revenue $10,418  $9,673  7.7%
Operational profit  $2,810  $2,487  12.9%
After-tax profit  $1,594  $1,374 16%
Earnings per Share (ADR)  $2.10  $1.81  16% 

Source: National Grid earnings release.

Here's how those operational profits broke down by National Grid's various business segments:

Source: National Grid earnings presentation, author's chart.

What happened with National Grid this half

  • The big headline story was that management announced it is looking to sell a majority stake in its UK Gas Distribution business. The rationale is that while the business is a strong cash flow generator, the company wants to rebalance its portfolio toward other options with higher growth potential. Once completed, the board has approved to return a large portion of the sale returns to shareholders. Estimates say that National Grid's Gas Distribution business is worth $16.9 billion.
  • In April, National Grid exchanged its ownership stake in the Iroquois Gas Transmission system to Dominion Midstream Partners (NYSE: DM). In exchange, National Grid received and 8.7% stake in Dominion Midstream.
  • After announcing last year that the company expects to invest $24 billion to $30 billion in total by 2020-2021 in the UK, management now expects total investment to be on the lower end of that range as several electricity projects are taking longer to develop than originally anticipated. Since National Grid operates exclusively in the transmission side of things, it has little influence on when these projects actually do start up.
  • To accommodate for that decline in UK spending, management has upped its investments in the U.S. The company expects capital investments in the U.S. to grow its asset base by 7%, which is at the high end of the company's overall asset growth plan. 
  • 2016 capital budget expected to be around $2.9 billion, $1.8 billion of which will be deployed in the U.S.
  • Management increased Its dividend 2% to $1.1323 per American depository share.

What management had to say

CEO Steve Holiday:

Our UK Regulated businesses and other activities remain on track to deliver good performance this year. In the U.S., we have made significant progress, managing our cost base through a time of increased activity and we expect to maintain profits in line with last year. In the second half of 2015/16 we will begin a process to rebalance our portfolio through the potential sale of a majority stake in our UK Gas Distribution business. Following a sale, National Grid's portfolio of businesses will have a higher asset growth profile and will remain well positioned to deliver strong returns and a sustainable, growing dividend. The UK Gas Distribution business has been an important part of National Grid.

Looking forward
With the impending sale of a major stake in the UK Gas Distribution business, investors can expect either a heft cash payment, or the possibility that the company buys back some shares. That is just a one-time thing, though, so it shouldn't significantly alter the investment thesis in the company too much as there are other investment opportunities out there. Although, one could argue that the proceeds could be used to shore up the balance sheet and invest in its growth. 

What is most important is the ability to invest and grow its asset base. With up to $24 billion being spent in the UK over the next five to six years and a decent amount of projects in the U.S. as well, National Grid there are plenty of opportunities to grow its earnings. As with all opportunities, though, the company will need to execute well on the development of these projects and find the lowest cost capital possible to fund it.

Tyler Crowe has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him at Fool.com or on Twitter @TylerCroweFool.

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