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Sempra poised to reap 'mountain of cash' from Cameron LNG, exec says

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Sempra poised to reap 'mountain of cash' from Cameron LNG, exec says

Sempra Energy and its shareholders are getting close to unlocking "a mountain of cash" not yet accounted for in the company's equity valuation as the Cameron LNG export project nears fruition, a company executive said.

The company laid down a fraction of the liquefaction and export project's cost after contributing facilities from an earlier regasification project, Joe Householder, corporate group president of infrastructure businesses, said during the company's April 5 analyst day. He said shareholders are spared the majority of the risk from the massive investment, which is being developed as a joint venture that includes Engie, Mitsui & Co. Ltd. and Japan LNG Investments LLC.

"We shifted the risk to our customers and our partners," Householder said. "Our stock valuation is missing this point: Cash is coming. It's coming soon." Sempra anticipates $11 billion in cash flow ? "a mountain of cash," as Householder termed it during the presentation ? from the Cameron LNG joint venture after debt and amortization but before taxes, which Householder said the company will not have to pay until 2024 or later. Given the expected steady stream of cash from the project, CEO Debra Reed said during the presentation, the company will reassess its dividend once Cameron LNG comes online.

Sempra shares closed April 5 at $109.44, down 0.85% on the day but close to the stock's 52-week high of $114.66.

Sempra maintained its timeline for Cameron LNG, which is under construction in Louisiana and expected to have the first three liquefaction trains in service by the end of 2019.

Householder also said the LNG market has plenty of room for traditional 20-year agreements despite pressure from LNG buyers for more flexible contracts. "The long-term demand is still there. When you have a situation when people have built a lot of supply and the demand as kind of fallen off ... buyers want to take those really short-term contracts," he said. "When it gets to a place where they need to be assured they have long-term supply ... I think we're going to have plenty of 20-year agreements."

Industry observers have repeatedly pointed to a shift toward more flexible contracts, as buyers take advantage of an oversupplied market and demand grows in emerging markets. But U.S. developers have said their ability to obtain financing depends on guaranteed cash flow from credible buyers.

Householder said Sempra, which is also developing the Port Arthur LNG export terminal along the U.S. Gulf Coast, will continue to look for off-takers with strong credit. While the company does not plan on contracting directly with riskier buyers, Householder said, larger players such as BP plc and Royal Dutch Shell plc could buy LNG from Sempra's export ventures to then ship to newer markets with lower credit.

Sempra executives said the company anticipates 10% to 11% growth through 2021 from projects that are already contracted. The company sees $19 billion in operating cash flow over the next five years, with no new infrastructure CapEx after 2019.

Reed added that projects like Cameron LNG that are already under contract will not see volatility from rising interest rates because Sempra has locked in fixed rates.