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UPDATE 3-Repsol pledges earnings growth after second straight annual loss

* Adjusted net 404 mln euros, unadjusted loss of 711 mln euros

* Annual net loss narrows to 3.29 bln euros (Adds new earnings forecast, renewable capacity plan)

MADRID, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Spanish energy group Repsol pledged to boost core earnings by 30% in 2021 on Thursday after a pandemic-induced slump in energy demand and dwindling valuations for fossil fuel assets pushed it to a second consecutive annual net loss. Investors took cheer from the fact that adjusted income, which does not include the impact of write-downs on fossil fuel assets, came in higher than expected, pushing its shares up. Curbs on mobility to stop the spread of the coronavirus have pushed companies including much larger peer BP into heavy losses, piling extra pressure on a drive among European oil majors to invest more in lower-carbon businesses.

Repsol said it expected to boost earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to 5.3 billion euros ($6.4 billion) this year, 30% higher than in 2020, and set a target to have almost 4 gigawatts (GW) of renewable generation capacity in operation by the end of 2021.

Chief Executive Josu Jon Imaz said the company was still working on the best format for a plan to spin off its renewable generation business in the next two years, and was prepared either to sell a stake to a partner or on public markets.

Repsol shares rose 2.7% and stayed among the Madrid index’s leading gainers after fourth quarter adjusted net income of 404 million euros far outstripped the 134 million forecast provided by the company.

Without the adjustments, the net loss hit 711 million euros in the quarter. Annually, it narrowed its net loss to 3.29 billion euros compared with 3.82 billion the previous year.

The share rise, which took this year’s gains to more than 17% after a 40% slump in 2020, was also due to a plan to buy back about 2.58% of its issued stock, said Luis Navia, an analyst at CM Capital Markets in Madrid.

Oil prices plummeted to as low as $15 per barrel in April and ended the year 35% lower on average, Repsol noted.

In the course of 2020, Repsol said it spent 218 million euros on oil exploration, compared with investments of 573 million euros in the unit that is developing its renewables projects.

$1 = 0.8281 euros Reporting by Isla Binnie; editing by Jason Neely and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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