* Underlying profit A$184 mln v A$332 mln forecast
* Debt reduction remains priority
* No dividend paid, as expected
(Adds CEO comment)
MELBOURNE, Feb 16 Origin Energy Ltd
fell far short of analysts' forecasts on Thursday, reporting a
28 percent drop in half-year underlying profit as weak oil
prices hit revenue at its Australia Pacific liquefied natural
gas (APLNG) project.
The blow came a day after Australia's top power and gas
retailer flagged it was taking a A$1 billion ($770 million)
impairment charge on its 37.5 percent stake in APLNG, which the
market shrugged off given that rival LNG projects had been hit
by writedowns earlier.
Still, Managing Director Frank Calabria, reporting his first
results since taking the reins last October, said earnings were
growing from the company's power and gas retail business, thanks
to higher volumes and better profit margins.
"We continue to focus on accelerating debt reduction and
improving returns to shareholders, so we can position Origin for
growth in a rapidly changing market," Calabria said in a
Gas prices have been rising sharply in Australia, as gas has
been drained from the domestic market to feed new LNG export
plants, including APLNG. At the same time, electricity prices
have rocketed on the back of rising use of wind and solar
Origin said it was on track to go ahead with an initial
public offering of its exploration and production assets,
excluding gas aimed for exports, in 2017.
Underlying profit after tax sank to A$184 million for the
six months to December from A$254 million a year earlier. That
compares with a forecast of around A$332 million from two
Weakened revenue from APLNG meant the project was unable to
cover increases in interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation,
Origin paid no interim dividend, as expected. It stopped
paying dividends last August to focus on paying down debt to
help it weather weak oil and gas prices.
($1 = 1.2974 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin)