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UPDATE: Z Energy shares rise on savings, dividend guidance

UPDATE: Z Energy shares rise on savings, dividend guidance

(Recasts to focus on savings initiatives, adds share price in 8th paragraph, Marpol risk to end)

By Gavin Evans

May 2 (BusinessDesk) - Z Energy shares rose after the company forecast a $22 million benefit from its efficiency initiatives in the current year and signalled at least a 12 percent increase in dividends.

The company, which also operates the Caltex brand, cut its guidance twice last year and accelerated its work on new services and cost-saving initiatives after being caught out by a jump in crude oil prices and a weak New Zealand dollar during the first half.

Today it said its Strategy 3.0 programme delivered $19 million of earnings in the March year just ended – more than expected - and may deliver a further $22 million in the current year.

Chief executive Mike Bennetts said the programme – which originally targeted $30-$35 million of gains over three years, is on-track to be completed a year early.

Most of the hard work, including discussions with third-parties, had been completed, and now it was more a matter of implementation, he said.

Being able to deliver that sort of a gain in a highly competitive market was “distinctive value” for Z, he told journalists and investors in Wellington.

“This is profit that Z is able to achieve that others are not because it’s unique to our scale and it’s the last of the benefits flowing from the Caltex deal that we concluded in 2016.”

Z shares rose 2.6 percent to $6.37, taking their year-to-date gain to 18 percent.

The company earlier today reported a 13 percent decline in full-year net profit after an extended outage at the Marsden Point refinery raised its costs and record pump prices reduced petrol volumes industry-wide.

The country’s biggest fuel retailer said net profit, measured on a replacement cost basis, fell to $178 million in the year ended March 31, from $205 million a year earlier.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and changes in financial instruments, also measured on a replacement cost basis, fell 3 percent to $434 million and were in the middle of the $420-$450 million range the firm indicated in January.

The Wellington-based company will pay a final dividend of 30.5 cents on May 29, up from 21.9 cents a year earlier. That takes the total dividend for the year to 43 cents a share, up from 32.3 cents last year and also in the middle of the 38-47 cent range the firm signalled in January.

Z’s performance improved markedly in the second-half after crude oil prices dropped from about US$86 a barrel in early October to US$51 in late December. The Marsden Point refinery also resumed full production.

Bennetts said the first-half trading conditions had been among the most difficult the company had faced.

High pump prices saw annual industry petrol volumes fall 1.5 percent as customers altered their driving behaviour. The prolonged refinery shutdown left the company a distressed purchaser of finished products, also adversely affected its margins.

While Z’s petrol volumes for the year fell about 3 percent to 1.3 billion litres, diesel volumes were up 2 percent at 1.67 billion. Other fuel sales were also 4 percent higher at almost 1.2 billion, driven by increased marine fuel sales and new roading activity increasing demand for bitumen.

Bennetts noted that Brent crude prices – recently about US$71 a barrel - have been rising steadily and local fuel discounting is back to the level it was a year ago.

The company has lowered its costs and the group’s Caltex brand is better-positioned to benefit if prices reach a point where consumers again get very focused on pricing, he said.

Taking the firm’s Pumped loyalty programme in-house will also enable it to use its marketing spend more effectively, Bennetts said.

After allowing for changes to accounting rules for leases, the company is forecasting ebitdaf of $450-$490 million for the current financial year. That assumes an average exchange rate of 68 US cents and Brent crude price of US$70 a barrel.

Ordinary dividends for the year are likely to be between 48 and 54 cents a share.

On a like-for-like basis, the current-year ebitdaf forecast is $425-465 million. After the Strategy 3.0 gain, the next biggest benefit assumed in the forecast is $20 million from a full-year of uninterrupted production from the refinery. About $15 million of costs – mostly from deferred maintenance and reduced marketing – return this year.

Also included in the forecast is a potential $4 million impact if changes to Marpol shipping fuel regulations force the company to export more of its share of the refinery’s fuel oil production at lower prices.

New standards – reducing sulphur and nitrogen dioxide emissions – are effective internationally from January 2020. Shipping companies will either have to switch to low-sulphur fuel oil or marine diesel, or invest in scrubbers to clean the emissions from their exhaust stacks.

Bennetts said the change could be largely neutral for the company, given that weaker fuel oil prices should be offset by better margins on diesel.

But the firm’s forecast assumes a worst-case that about 60 percent of its fuel oil production will be exported in the final quarter of the 2020 fiscal year. Normally it sells three-quarters of its production – about 175 million litres a year – locally.

It is considering entering into term contracts, or derivatives, to help cover that risk.

Bennetts said the change in global standards is the biggest in the industry since 2008, when new fuel standards in the US caused massive dislocation in supply chains that got reflected in crude and product prices.

He says the consensus view is that the global industry is far better prepared for the Marpol changes than it was 18 months ago and there are no signs in forward markets that dislocation of wider markets is expected.

But he said markets hadn’t expected any disruption in 2008 either, and the company is keeping a close eye on developments.

(BusinessDesk)

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