Centrica shares dive after British Gas loses 823,000 customers

Shares in the British Gas owner Centrica have plunged to a 14-year low after the company shed 823,000 customers in four months and warned full-year earnings would be below expectations.

The UK’s biggest energy supplier said it lost nearly 6% of its customer accounts between July and October, with 150,000 of those heading for the door after the company hiked prices for millions in September.

The exodus leaves the company with 13.1m accounts, meaning it will still be the market leader even after rival big six firms npower and SSE merge to create a giant with 11.5m accounts.

Centrica warned that its earnings per share would be 12.5p, a fifth below the consensus the market had been expecting.

Profits at the company’s North American units are expected to be down £140m for the full year, due to a one-off charge. Meanwhile, tough competition in the UK means the company will only break even, rather than making an expected profit of £37m.

“2017 is on track to be another tough year for Centrica,” said analysts at the bank Jefferies, adding: “the negative trajectory in earnings would disappoint many”.

The Royal Bank of Canada called Centrica’s trading statement “extremely disappointing”, adding the scale of customer losses was “alarming”.

Shares in Centrica fell by 15% to 139p on Thursday, a third below the price at which they were trading before Theresa May first raised the prospect of action on energy bills in October last year.

Iain Conn, the Centrica chief executive, said: “Although some aspects of our delivery in the second half of 2017 have been disappointing, I remain encouraged by our progress in implementing our strategy.”

Earlier this week, Conn said the firm would scrap controversial standard variable tariffs for new customers from April 2018, in the face of the prime minister’s price cap on the tariffs.

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