September 25, 2019 / 6:33 AM / 3 months ago

United Utilities first-half buoyed by regulatory incentives

(Reuters) - United Utilities Group Plc (UU.L) on Wednesday forecast higher first-half underlying profit and revenue, but the water provider said it expects debt to rise because of a repayment to its pension scheme and the impact of new reporting standards.

The FTSE 100-listed .FTSE utility said it largely benefited from the British water regulator's incentives for meeting or exceeding targets under multi-year business plans, such as project completions and standards of customer service.

United Utilities, which supplies water to three million homes and 200,000 businesses in the north-west of England, expects net debt to increase by around 250 million pounds at Sept. 30 from the end of March when it stood at 7.07 billion pounds.

The company cited the repayment of 100 million pounds to its pension scheme and an additional 55 million pounds in lease liabilities for the rise in debt.

British water utilities, energy companies and rail operators face the possibility of forced renationalisation - potentially at a lower price than their market value - in the event that a Labour Party-led government wins power in a UK election many commentators now think could happen within months.

The odds on that an election will be called to break parliament’s political impasse over Brexit rose again on Tuesday with a Supreme Court ruling against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament.

United Utilities and its main rival Severn Trent (SVT.L) have already spoken out against Labour’s plans.

Water utilities also are in the midst of setting their pricing and investment plans for the next five years. The regulator Ofwat has approved reductions in bills of between 5% and 15% from providers including United Utilities in its draft approvals.

United Utilities, which is expected to deliver an 11%, or 49 pound cut on prices, on Wednesday said it is continuing talks with the regulator.

Reporting by Muvija M and Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr

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