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E.ON posts biggest ever loss on power plant writedowns

Germany's E.ON suffered its biggest ever annual loss after booking billions of euros in charges on its ailing power plants, clearing the way for it to spin off these assets hit hard by ultra-low wholesale prices.

Europe's power companies are having to adapt to big changes in their industry caused by a steep decline in oil prices and a surge in renewable energy capacity which has driven many coal and gas-fired plants out of the market.

In the most drastic corporate response yet to the crisis, E.ON, Germany's biggest utility, in November announced plans to split its business. It will spin off its conventional power generation business to focus on renewables, power grids and services.

Nigel Treblin | Getty Images

E.ON swung to a net loss of 3.2 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in 2014, compared with a profit of 2.14 billion euros a year earlier, the company said on Wednesday. Analysts had, on average, expected a net loss of 3.3 billion euros.

The loss, the biggest since it was formed by the merger of German power groups VEBA and VIAG in 2000, was triggered by 5.4 billion euros in impairment charges on power plants, including assets in Britain, Sweden and Italy.

The company expects 2015 earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of 7-7.6 billion euros, down from 8.3 billion last year.

E.ON Chief Executive Johannes Teyssen also blamed currency effects -- most notably in Russia, where E.ON makes six percent of its operating profits -- and continued low interest rates in Europe for a decline in profits.

"And no one can say with certainty how long these trends will last," he said.

Smaller rival RWE on Tuesday also gave a bleak forecast for its business and said profits and investments would fall this year, echoing an outlook from French peer GDF Suez in late February.

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