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25 Nov 2020 | 08:39

United Utilities hikes dividend even as revenue falls

(Sharecast News) - United Utilities reported a 16% fall in its underlying profit after tax for the first half on Wednesday, to £174m, which it said reflected new price controls. The FTSE 100 company said its revenue for the six months ended 30 September totalled £894.4m, down from £935.5m.

It declared an interim dividend of 14.41p per share, rising from the 14.2p it paid at the interim last year.

The firm said its customer debtor position and household cash collection remained strong, adding that household bad debt was stable in the first half at 1.8%.

It also described a strong balance sheet, with its A3 stable credit rating with Moody's maintained, as its pension schemes were fully funded on a low-dependency basis.

The board reaffirmed its dividend policy for asset management period 7 (AMP7), of growth in line with CPIH inflation.

"Our focus throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has been on supporting customers, protecting our colleagues and maintaining essential services," said chief executive officer Steve Mogford.

"We have continued to provide high quality water and wastewater services to more than three million households in the north west thanks to the extraordinary hard work and dedication of my colleagues, many of whom are key workers.

"Average customer bills have reduced by 7% in real terms this year, but we recognise that for many in our region, these are still challenging times."

Mogford said that, to accommodate customers struggling to pay bills, it offered "the sector's widest range" of financial assistance schemes, adding that the company had also acted "swiftly" to increase the number of customers eligible for reduced tariffs.

"Despite the pandemic, our operational performance in this first year of the new regulatory period is on track.

"We are accelerating our capital expenditure to bring forward benefits and help support 17,700 jobs in the supply chain.

"We recognise the role that we can play in a successful society, economy and a thriving natural environment and are confident in our ability to deliver our AMP7 plans to achieve this."

The company now had a clearer understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on its business, Mogford said, which remained "robust" and supported by a strong balance sheet.

"This, together with a stabilised inflation outlook supported by central bank policy and government actions, gives us the confidence to reaffirm our responsible AMP7 dividend policy of growth in line with CPIH inflation."

At 0837 GMT, shares in United Utilities were up 3.12% at 924.2p.
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