印刷する
Share

Blog

An alternative view on energy prices

10/02/2017

Simon Adler

Simon Adler

Fund Manager, Equity Value

Andrew Evans

Andrew Evans

Fund Manager, Equity Value

As we wrote in our article Forget the acronyms, we care about the treatment of stakeholders in a company. Not just investors but staff, customers, suppliers and regulators. Given the political, regulatory and media pressure on the so called “Big Six” energy companies, the situation at market leader Centrica is worthy of closer examination.

Are customers paying too much, as some have been arguing? The short and perhaps unpopular answer, based on our own research, is that we think they’re getting a fair deal, on the whole.

Understanding the energy “trilemma” will help explain our conclusion.

The nature of a trilemma is that there are three attractive options. While you would ideally like to pursue all of them, in reality choosing two prevents the third. In the context of UK energy policy, there are three aims of energy policy:

-          Affordability

-          Decarbonisation

-          Keeping the lights on (“security of supply” in energy parlance)

Unless or until batteries come and save us from the trilemma, only two of those are achievable at the same time.

For example, solar and wind farms provide very clean (de-carbonised) energy but the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine when EastEnders comes on, leaving security of supply as an issue. Coal is really cheap and very reliable but it, of course, fails on the de-carbonisation front. Nuclear power is good for de-carbonisation (ignoring how do you get rid of the stuff at the end!), pretty reliable but super expensive. And so on, hence the trilemma.

The really tricky bit for any government is which of the trio to sacrifice. For over 10 years, the political consensus was that it was acceptable to forego affordability in the pursuit of decarbonisation and security of supply.. However, at the Labour party conference in September 2013, the then leader Ed Miliband changed the terms of the debate.

Miliband – who had earlier spent 18 months as secretary of state for energy and climate change in Gordon’s Brown’s government - changed his mind and announced that, if Labour won the next election, it would freeze energy prices for two years. All of a sudden, affordability was the key policy from the trilemma for energy policymakers. They didn’t say how they’d achieve this. The reality was that Miliband was sacrificing security of supply and Cameron was giving up de-carbonisation.

Centrica’s share price fell almost 20% in the two months following Miliband’s speech, and it became public enemy number 1. Regular visitors to The Value Perspective will be aware that, rather than relying on the opinions of others, we prefer to carry out our own in-depth analysis of companies. With Centrica, we wanted to answer two questions: how expensive are UK gas and electricity prices and is Centrica overearning from them?

The time we have spent doing our research has led us to conclude UK gas and electricity prices are not expensive and Centrica is not making egregious profit margins. Below shows a chart on respective energy prices across Europe – we suddenly don’t look so bad do we?

Average household energy prices in 2013 (2014 prices) in the EU- including taxes

  

Source: Eurostat data as of June 2014, published in DECC’s Quarterly Energy Prices available at https://www.gov.uk/goverment/organisations/derpartment-of-energy-climate-change/about/statistics. Note: Data sorted by electricity prices. Information on the gas price in Finland was not available.

When we looked at the Big Six, we found some interesting numbers for 2015. The average profit per customer was £26 – cheaper than buying a beer for each member of the value team. The average profit margin (EBIT or profit before tax and costs of financing) for the Big Six was 2.9%, as the chart below shows.

 

What happens to the revenue from energy bills

EBIT- Earnings before Interest andTax

DA- Depreciation and Amortization (an asset's re-sale value minus the cost paid)

Source: Ofgem 2015

Centrica  is the biggest in the industry and thus can be expected to make higher margins. The figure was 5.3% in 2015 (higher in gas, lower in electricity). Compare that to some other household names: M&S at 7.4%, Reckitt Benckiser at 26%, easyJet at 11%, Vodafone at 11%, Diageo at 30%. We could go on.

Some customers may be paying more than is necessary and should ask for a cheaper tariff or vote with their feet. It can seem a daunting and complicated process but we note that customers are able to easily change suppliers and have more choice than they would do in some of the other consumer decisions in their lives. 

Our analysis therefore leads us to conclude that neither the industry or Centrica are overcharging or overearning. The UK government is obtaining a good deal. Political consensus will inevitably change once more and another element of the trilemma will gain ascendancy. Investors should watch events carefully.  As things stand, shareholders needn’t have a cold chill owning Centrica.

Author

Simon Adler

Simon Adler

Fund Manager, Equity Value

I joined Schroders in 2008 as an analyst in the UK equity team, ultimately analysing the Media, Transport, Leisure, Chemicals and Utility sectors. In 2014 I moved into a fund management role and have had experience managing Global ESG and Pan-European funds.  I joined the Value investment team in July 2016 to focus on UK institutional and ethical-value portfolios.

Andrew Evans

Andrew Evans

Fund Manager, Equity Value

I joined Schroders in 2015 as a member of the Value Investment team. Prior to joining Schroders I was responsible for the UK research process at Threadneedle. I began my investment career in 2001 at Dresdner Kleinwort as a Pan-European transport analyst. 

Don’t miss the latest value investing ideas.

Enter your email for alerts on new posts from The Value Perspective team.

We store your information securely, and we never share it with third parties. We'll only send you emails relevant to you and you can opt out at any time.

Important Information:

The views and opinions displayed are those of Ian Kelly, Nick Kirrage, Andrew Lyddon, Kevin Murphy, Andrew Williams, Andrew Evans and Simon Adler, members of the Schroder Global Value Equity Team (the Value Perspective Team), and other independent commentators where stated. They do not necessarily represent views expressed or reflected in other Schroders' communications, strategies or funds. The Team has expressed its own views and opinions on this website and these may change.

This article is intended to be for information purposes only and it is not intended as promotional material in any respect. Reliance should not be placed on the views and information on the website when taking individual investment and/or strategic decisions. Nothing in this article should be construed as advice. The sectors/securities shown above are for illustrative purposes only and are not to be considered a recommendation to buy/sell.

Past performance is not a guide to future performance and may not be repeated. The value of investments and the income from them may go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amounts originally invested.