London investors diss Gazprom for ducking Kremlin dividend order

London investors diss Gazprom for ducking Kremlin dividend order
What's in a name? Exemption from the rules if its Gazprom.
By Jason Corcoran and Vadim Dumesh May 17, 2016

Investors at VTB Capital's London conference have been dissing gas monopoly Gazprom for ducking out of an obligation to pay higher dividends.

Fund managers at the two-day Russia Calling event on May 17-18, the first in three years, were criticising Gazprom in discussions with senior government officials, delegates told bne IntelliNews.

The secretive event attracted a second-string from the Kremlin, including Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Moiseev and  Ksenia Yudaeva, deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia (CBR).

"Investors should be disappointed considering it's less than a month after a government decree on dividends followed by a number of comments by officials there would be no exceptions," Ildar Davlethsin, head of oil and gas research at Renaissance Capital, told bne IntelliNews in an interview from London. "It shows that the government decree has limited implications and state companies are not fully accountable to the government."

Gazprom's stock plunged by 5% on May 4 after the monopoly said it was seeking an exemption from a requirement that all state-controlled companies pay increased dividends.

The Kremlin is considering hiking dividends paid by Gazprom and other state-controlled companies to 50% of profits under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as part of a push to plug a gaping hole in its budget. Such a move to double the pay-out made by Gazprom under IFRS has sent the stock prices surging this year. But foreign portfolio managers have been spun this "investor friendly" story before and some were rightly wary to pile in.

Gazprom will  now pay about 21.8% of net RAS profit for 2015 instead of 50% of either RAS of IFRS profit  demanded by the government, Vedomosti daily reported on May 1, citing federal government sources and a trader close to the company.

Should the company have paid a payout worth 50% of IFRS net profit, the state would have received RUB151bn. The loss of revenue for the Kremlin's creaking coffers is about RUB84bn.

Gazprom seemed previously to support the idea of paying higher dividends under IFRS in principle. "We support anything that is beneficial to our shareholders, but the discussion is more than 10 years old and there is still no decision from the state," Igor Shatalov, deputy finance director at Gazprom, told an investor day in February.

Things obviously changed with Gazprom facing difficulties in implementing its investment programme this year after domestic demand collapsed. The company, headed by industry stalwart Alexei Miller, lobbied hard "to the very top", according to Vedomosti.

The state has been considering a rescue plan for development bank VEB, which was hit with US and European Union sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. One option under consideration is having Gazprom purchase 2.7% of its own shares from VEB.

The Ministry of Energy also opposed higher dividends for the company that has to carry out a number of large infrastructure projects such as Power of Siberia pipeline to China.

Together with failed privatisation of Rosneft (RUB600bn targeted) missing out on state company's dividends make the highest risks for 3% of GDP federal budget deficit target for 2016, federal sources say, while noting that both those risks have already became the reality.