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Trump Proposals Won't Hurt Sempra's Mexico Operations, Says CEO

With one of the energy sector's larger stakes in Mexico, Sempra Energy is watching closely moves in the White House with the new president's focus south of the border, but so far its CEO thinks the San Diego-based utility holding company will continue to do just fine down there.

Speaking on an earnings conference call, Sempra CEO Debra Reed addressed what she called the potential policy implications for Mexico. "The Trump administration is focused on addressing the current trade imbalance [for the U.S. with Mexico], but the value of U.S. energy exports to Mexico in 2016 was more than twice the value of the energy imports from there."

Reed argued that Sempra's Mexican company, IEnova, helps support energy's favorable trade balance by helping Mexico construct a backbone for the nation's energy infrastructure. "We continue to see great growth potential in Mexico," she said.

Sempra Mexico earned $56 million in 4Q2016, slightly higher than year-ago profits of $53 million. For the year, the Mexico unit’s profits rose to $463 million from $213 million, primarily because of a $350 million after-tax remeasurement gain in 3Q2016 on the Gasoductos de Chihuahua acquisition, offset by $95 million in after-tax losses related to the planned sale of the Termoelectrica de Mexicali plant, and a lower favorable impact from foreign currency and inflation effects.

Reed  said nothing is on the horizon that negatively impacts Sempra's expanding operations south of the border. "We see some amazing growth opportunities in Mexico," she said, and signaled the unit is eyeing growth also from the power sector and natural gas liquids.

"The markets that are opening are creating additional opportunities for us,” Reed said of Mexico, citing renewables and electric transmission line projects as new prospects. "We're really excited about opportunities we see coming with liquid pipelines and terminals."

Business in Mexico is going to "continue to move forward," Reed said, noting Sempra executives have met with Mexican and Trump administration officials regarding export-imports with Mexico. "Energy does meet the administration's concerns about trade imbalances."

Sempra executives were quizzed about whether they may deploy a smaller, modular approach to liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities, including the import facility on the Baja California Pacific Coast at Energia Costa Azul (ECA). The company has assessed the technology, but it doesn’t mesh with a strategy to provide LNG under long-term, large-volume contracts.

"We specifically looked at the technology for ECA and supplying LNG to Hawaii," Reed said. "We specifically looked whether using the modular technology would be better than trying to convert the [import] facility at Costa Azul."

"We continue to look at many things," said Sempra’s Joe Householder, president for infrastructure businesses. "In LNG, we're focused on our three projects -- Cameron (LA), Port Arthur (TX), and ECA -- and building the larger scale trains; we think those will have the best economics." The modular approach is more akin to the smaller markets, executives said..

"We've looked at it several times, and it depends on the market you want to service," said Reed, citing ECA and Hawaii's push for use more LNG. "We were looking at potentially serving the Hawaii market out of Costa Azul.

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