Sempra Energy said Wednesday that it would shed holdings in two natural gas distributors in Argentina and take a loss of about $200 million on an investment that soured when the country went into an economic tailspin five years ago.
The San Diego-based company is seeking buyers for its 37% stake in Camuzzi Gas Pampeana and its 39% of Camuzzi del Sur, which serve a combined 1.5 million customers in central and southern Argentina.
Any sale would at least partially reduce the $200-million loss, said Jennifer Andrews, a Sempra spokeswoman.
She said Sempra had invested $366 million in Argentina since 1996. The country slid into an economic meltdown in 2001.
The decision to exit Argentina "is a continuation of our strategy to shed nonstrategic assets and focus on growing our natural gas infrastructure and marketing businesses and our California utilities," said Donald Felsinger, Sempra's chairman and chief executive.
The company owns Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.
Sempra estimated that its profit would top $4 a share in 2006 -- up from its previous estimate of $3.50 to $3.70 -- mainly because its energy trading business was doing better than expected.
The estimate excludes a $204-million gain from the sale of Texas power plants in the third quarter and the $200-million fourth-quarter loss on the Argentine investment.
Analysts polled by Thomson Financial had expected Sempra to earn $3.65 a share in 2006.
Shares of Sempra gained 86 cents to $56.15.