From time to time we pass comment on Centrica - partly because energy is one of our themes; and partly because from inception as an Enron-wannabe spin-off out of the old monopoly British Gas, it's been an interesting company on an interesting 'journey' (as we're obliged to say these days).
You can click on the link below to see our sporadic past comments. Not all of them have been favourable, because Centrica went through a misguided phase of loud special-pleading for subsidies, which didn't endear them to us - or indeed to the government. They've taken a few outright false steps over the years, notable among which were the move into "we-can-do-everything" banking & telecomms; and the big stake they took in British Energy nukes alongside EDF. But they've done clever stuff too: intelligent re-calibration of commercial policy when things weren't working out as intended (these days we must call this 'pivoting'); and a series of adroit asset acquisitions (most notably gas-fired power stations and long-term electricity supply contracts) when prices were rock-bottom. Their technical skills in the marketplace have always been pretty fair.
All in all, to have stayed independent for nearly 25 years is no mean achievement.
But today they have serious problems to address. Mrs May's inane price cap has weakened the entire industry, as was widely foreseen; and for a couple of years now insider commentary has not been kind about Centrica's strategic decsion-making, once so laudable. Share price has reflected these things. They are 're-basing the dividend' and the top man is quitting.
There doesn't need to be any sentiment in this: but I feel uneasy when good companies can't find a way through. The residential gas & electricity supply business is of course going through a shocking phase. May's cap; the plethora of minnows that should never have been given licences (Ofgem's grievous fault) and have been going under at a rate; big players like RWE (Innogy/NPower) and SSE trying to exit ... this is a mess. And against a backdrop for the entire energy sector of trying to get to grips with whatever the 'decarbonised' future will bring.
Civilisation is energy-intensive, as the great James Lovelock reminds us (he's just turned 100) - and society needs capable energy companies. In civilised countries, energy should be like water and food: so well managed that the miracle of abundance goes almost unnoticed. Darwinian processes are fine: but there's no pleasure in seeing a big healthy beast fall sick. Yes; things can go very wrong if the energy market isn't working well.