Utility GDF Suez's H1 sales boosted by cold winter

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PARIS (AP) — Franco-Belgian utility GDF Suez saw its revenue rise 10.6 percent in the first half of the year, driven in part by a late-winter cold snap and a particularly chilly spring in France.

But income at the partially state-owned company slid 14.9 percent to €2.3 billion ($2.8 billion) as compared to the same period last year, when the bottom line was boosted by capital gains. Revenue for the January-to-June period was €50.5 billion.

The increase in revenue helped push the company's share price up 2 percent in morning trading Thursday on the Paris bourse.

The stock price was likely also buoyed by the company's announcement that it would be recouping €290 million from customers that it lost when the government froze gas prices at the end of last year — a freeze which has since been overturned. The company said it would recoup the sum over time but did not specify how long.

The Paris-based company confirmed its goals of achieving recurring net income of between €3.7 billion and €4.2 billion for the year.

But that goal assumes successful negotiations with the French government over the state-mandated limit in gas prices. In July, the government said gas prices couldn't rise more than 2 percent — even though the French energy regulator said a 7.3 percent increase would be needed to cover costs. GDF Suez is now in talks with the government.

The group said that if the price issue isn't resolved, its earnings before income tax, depreciation and amortization — an important measure of profitability — would take a €30 million hit in the third quarter. The impact would be even greater in the last quarter of the year.

"The fact that tariffs (prices) must reflect costs, it's not a dream," said CEO Gerard Mestrallet. "It is an obligation, an absolute obligation."

While the group credited some of its revenue gain to expansion into developing markets, much of it came from its home base in France. Unseasonably cold weather pushed sales there up 17.5 percent in the first half.

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