Naturgy's profit rises on LNG gains, soothing shareholders

(Reuters) - Spanish power utility Naturgy reported on Monday an 88% jump in profit for the first six months of the year, boosted by strong earnings at its liquefied natural gas (LNG) business, which could help it to win over restive investors.

Earlier this month, the company said it would increase its dividend floor through 2025 while trimming expected investment, as it sought to make rewarding shareholders a priority.

Pleasing them has become a focus as Naturgy considers changes that could reshape the company and after arguments over the potential appointment of a chief executive.

Naturgy's first-half net profit jumped to $1.16 B, boosted by its liquefied natural gas (LNG) business.

Shares were down 0.2% in mid-morning trading, bucking deeper declines, in particular for Spain's blue-chip banks and utilities after a general election on Sunday produced no clear winner.

Renta 4 Banco analyst Angel Perez Llamazares said Naturgy performed better than expected, adding "cash flows also beat our expectation," and debt fell more than expected.

After natural gas prices hit record levels last year, Naturgy said a fall in procurement costs this year and hedging gains had boosted profits.

In the first half of the year, the company "exceeded the objectives of operating efficiency, cash generation, investment materialization and debt reduction," Executive Chairman and CEO Francisco Reynes said.

After rival Iberdrola (IBE.MC) named a separate CEO last year, Naturgy is the only large energy company in Spain to combine the roles of executive chairman and CEO.

Earlier this month, the company raised the dividend floor to 1.40 euros a share, from 1.20 euros.

Operating profit (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) is expected to reach 5.1 billion euros, compared with a previous guidance of 4.8 billion euros. It said it was targeting net profit of 1.8 billion euros in 2025.

Naturgy also relaunched its plan to split regulated infrastructure operations and liberalized energy businesses into two listed companies.

The project had been suspended after the Ukraine war disrupted energy markets and analysts are still skeptical.

"We believe it is unlikely that Naturgy will be able to implement its asset split in the short term and it is also unlikely that a big change in the shareholding of the company would occur," said RBC analyst Fernando Garcia.

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