British Gas makes profit; but does not rule out price hike

British Gas said that upward pressure on costs would continue despite the company reporting a profit of £356 million, up 3 per cent from £345 million a year earlier.

The parent company of Britain's residential gas supplier, Centrica's chief finance officer Nick Luff said, "we will keep prices as low as we can for as long as we can".

"If prices do have to go up, we will delay it for as long as possible," he added.

Centrica still expects British Gas' full-year operating profits at 2012 figure of £606 million.

''With our customers using more gas to stay warm during the unusually cold winter, we're doing everything we can to help them keep their energy costs under control and make bills simpler and clearer,'' said chief executive Sam Laidlaw.

Meanwhile, consumers asked the gas major to freeze energy bills for the remaining year with rise in profit.

The company hiked prices by 6 per cent at the start of last winter; however, it promised in May that it would use profits to maintain energy tariffs at their current levels.

Luff said residential gas sales had not resulted in ''a significant increase in profit'', but did not give a specific pledge not to raise energy bills this winter.

The company blamed environmental costs and the wholesale price of gas for increasing costs.

British Gas has introduced a tariff checker to help its customers work out if they are on the cheapest tariff, but rising profits are still likely to attract criticism from consumer groups if household bills continue to rise.

On Tuesday, it expressed its intention to take over the energy marketing business of Hess Corporation in a $731 million (£478 million) deal that makes its Direct Energy Business unit the largest business-to-business gas supplier in the eastern United States. (See: British utility Centrica to buy gas supplier Energy Marketing for $731 million)

In June, Centrica spent £44 million on a 25 per cent stake in a shale gas exploration licence in Bowland, Lancashire.

The company's adjusted earnings for the half-year grew 2 per cent to £767 million.

During the six months, it added 56,000 British Gas residential energy accounts, reflecting competitive pricing and innovative products.