Will explosion in energy prices be a boon for electricity auctioneer?
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Surging energy prices should be good for the business of a specialty energy trader and consultant, right?
Well in the case of Energy Action (ASX:EAX), with its shares holding around their long term lows, that seems not to be the case.
Yet as corporate Australia has bemoaned the high prices for electricity and gas — with the likes of Bluescope Steel, Amcor, Wesfarmers and Orora all disclosing earnings pressure in the latest profit reporting season — it is only over the past few months Energy Action has seen a revival in fortunes.
And, coming as Ivan Slavich was appointed chief executive in April, it may prove especially serendipitous for him if he manages to get the energy outfit’s share price to lift, given long term incentives.
A core part of the Energy Action business is operating a reverse-auction platform with clients seeking the lowest-priced bidder among the energy utilities.
But as electricity and gas prices rose steadily over the past few years, more and more clients either held off going to auction, or reduced contract terms, in the hope that prices would pull back.
The shutdown of Victoria’s Hazelwood power station earlier this year pushed wholesale electricity prices to peak levels, commanding front page coverage in the mainstream media.
And as prices surged, more and more clients were prompted to act, with this lift in auction activity flowing through to the bottom line in the June half.
“When electricity prices are high and we’re taking a percentage, then we get a higher dollar value from that,” Slavich says. “With high electricity prices, people need help more than ever.
“The reality is that prices are going to stay high,” which will drive ongoing use of its auction and advisory services offerings, he argues, as well as underpin the company’s bottom line.
Even with the price surge, Slavich says a number of clients have still held off fixing their contracts although, at the same time, larger companies have been knocking on his door, keen to prevent energy prices from becoming more of a cost burden.
“We have 150 experts; they may have half an expert,” Slavich says of the expertise he has on tap.
“No one does the full gamut, servicing from small to large companies, as well as providing structured products along with derivative products.”
And the increasing complexity of energy markets means seeking external help for an increasingly large cost centre, makes increasing sense, pointing to one notable recent win, Melbourne’s MCG.
Reviewing the bill for one client recently, for example, Energy Action found a billing error saw its client win a $1.5 million refund, for example.
Slavich has been employed at senior levels at both AGL and AGL Actew, the energy supplier to the ACT, but working for the end customer, as he does at Energy Action, is more fulfilling than when he was working at one of the energy retailers, he says.
Perhaps, but Energy Action’s drift in recent years as competitors have nibbled at its core business has seen it lose support in the investment community, with no analysts following the company and only a handful of microcap fund managers keeping an eye on its prospects.
“We’re not looking at M&A,” he says as he looks to the future. “Our focus is on what we are good at, and on lifting the profile of the organisation. The sales and marketing guys internally are really feeling the heat at the moment.”
Energy Action closed yesterday at 80c — close to the bottom of its 52-week range of 69c to $1.80.