One of the main benefits of investing in highly-regulated businesses is supposed to be the transparency, but for Centrica (CNA), and the other big energy providers, this is becoming a political shambles. Today's full-year 2013 results show a £571 million profit from its British Gas residential energy business. That might be 6% below the £606 million of 2012 but it hasn't stopped the critics lining up against the group armed with accusations of unfairly profiteering on the back of Britain's poorest.


The group admits to losing 2% of its customers, about 100,000, switched away to alternative energy providers since October's tariff price hikes.


What's interesting it that, whatever your political views on energy prices and Centrica, the group's British Gas profits tot-up to barely half of its own upstream exploration and extraction side, which added up to nearly £1.2 billion.


Putting that into prospective is clearly why the shares have remained fairly stable today, actually adding 2.5% to 322p, although this is still some way below the 400p-plus of September.

CENTRICA - Comparison Line Chart (Rebased to first)

No wonder calls are intensifying to break up the group. While Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw remains strongly against the idea – he believes the group needs to maintain some control over its oil and gas supplies to compete internationally – investors may be inclined to disagree, especially with the threat of price freezes still being bandied about by Labour (if it gets into Number 10) and the potential for stiffer tariff price controls regardless of which colour rides to victory at the polls next year, as we explained in December's Shares.


Either way, this issue is doggedly refusing to go away and that spells confusion, uncertainty and doubt, factors that the market hates and could have investors cashing in their chips until the UK's energy roulette wheel stops spinning.

Issue Date: 20 Feb 2014