British Gas owner Centrica says profits up 1%

Centrica, the owner of British Gas, has reported flat annual profits due to the effect of a slump in demand in the UK.

It reported adjusted operating profits of £2.4bn for 2011, up 1% on the same period in 2010.

The results include a 30% fall in operating profits at its residential energy division, British Gas, to £522m.

The firm, which is the UK’s biggest gas supplier, blamed lower energy consumption due to good weather and improvements in energy efficiency.

It predicted that the trend in the prices it pays for wholesale gas and electricity would continue to rise - and expects the average gas price for next winter to be 15% higher.

“2011 was a tough year, both for Centrica and our customers,” said chief executive Sam Laidlaw.

“But the strength of our integrated business and balance sheet means we’ve been able to take the lead in helping customers through these difficult times."

Centrica said it stayed in profit due to its operations in North America and by increasing its prices for the UK in August 2011, when it raised gas prices by 18% and electricity prices by 16%. It followed this with a 5% cut in electricity prices in January.

The firm started to focus on diversifying its business at the start of 2012 and announced an agreement on Wednesday with France’s Total, on oil and gas production facilities in the Central North Sea.

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