Russia’s Norilsk Nickel should keep its dividend to a minimum this year, biggest shareholder Vladimir Potanin told Reuters, as the company contends with the coronavirus crisis and a potential $2 billion environmental damages bill.
Potanin’s Interros holding, aluminium producer Rusal and some other stakeholders have a dividend agreement that suggests Nornickel pays them twice a year.
The agreement means the company cannot refuse to pay dividends, but Interros considers it necessary to reduce the amount to a minimum “in this difficult year”, Potanin said on Monday.
Rusal’s deputy chief executive echoed the sentiment, even though the company relies on dividends from its 27.8% stake in Nornickel.
“In the current situation, we share a cautious approach,” Maxim Poletayev told Reuters.
Nornickel’s board of directors will consider a nine-month dividend payment at its next meeting on Nov. 3, it said in a regulatory statement.
In addition to the hit from the pandemic, which has led some sector rivals to reduce dividends, Nornickel suffered a fuel spill at an Arctic power plant in May, for which Russia’s environmental watchdog wants the company to pay about $2 billion in damages.
After the spill, Potanin, who owns a 34.5% stake, proposed a cap on the 2020 dividend at $1 billion.
Nornickel’s net profit fell to $45 million in the first half as it set aside $2.1 billion for the environmental damage claim.
Interros understands, however, that Nornickel’s dividend payments are crucial for the state budget via dividend tax payments and for employees who own shares in the mining giant and view the dividends as guaranteed family income, Potanin said.
Nornickel has more than 100,000 individual shareholders, including most of its workers.
The state budget has received more than 100 billion roubles in dividend tax from Nornickel’s shareholders over the past 5 years, Potanin added.
($1 = 76.4250 roubles)
(By Polina Devitt and Anastasia Lyrchikova; Editing by Jason Neely and David Goodman)