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Oil prices pressure Repsol to review strategy as board meets
January 27, 2016 / 3:37 PM / 2 years ago

Oil prices pressure Repsol to review strategy as board meets

* Oil prices 40 pct below worst case scenario in strategic plan

* Analysts see Repsol’s cash generation under high pressure

* Shareholders could resist any cut to dividend

By Jose Elías Rodríguez and Angus Berwick

MADRID, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Spain’s Repsol has no choice but to deepen investment cuts, hasten asset sales or slash its dividend if it wants to weather a fall in oil prices that far outpaces the worst case scenario it based its strategy on, sources and analysts say.

Those issues are set to feature high on the agenda of the board of Europe’s fifth-biggest oil company by market value when it meets later on Wednesday, although any decision will likely depend on complex boardroom politics as well as a meeting with credit rating agencies expected to take place soon.

Having lagged the rest of the oil industry in slashing capital spending following the oil price plummet, Repsol said in October that over the next four years it would sell assets worth 6.2 billion euros ($6.75 billion) and cut its spending on exploration and production investments by 40 percent.

That strategy, based on an adverse scenario of $50 a barrel, would generate 10 billion euros of cash by 2020 that would be used to almost halve debt, protect its investment grade rating and return 3.6 billion euros to shareholders.

But with oil hitting a 12-year low of $30 a barrel, analysts estimate Repsol’s cash flow would drop by more than three quarters to below 2.5 billion euros, inevitably forcing a revamp of its strategy.

“This would roughly match the dividend cash-out in the period and therefore, we do not discard further divestments and/or additional cost cutting measures,” BPI analysts said in a recent note.

BPI also cut Repsol’s target price for the end of 2016 from 14 euros to 10.1 euros. Over the last three months Repsol’s share price has fallen by almost 21 percent to 9 euros, against a 13.5 percent fall in the STOXX Europe 600 Oil and Gas index over the same period.

DIVIDEND CUT?

Analysts and investors see more cuts to capital spending and jobs, and an acceleration of planned asset sales as the most likely options, as Repsol seeks to ease its 13.2 billion euro debt pile.

But some even say that if cash flow continues to tighten, the firm may have to consider cutting its sacred 1-euro-per-share dividend, whose yield of 10.29 percent is the highest of all oil majors, before Royal Dutch Shell’s 8.99 percent.

A source familiar with Repsol’s thinking told Reuters the company considered the dividend and the investment grade rating, one of the company’s red lines, “unsustainable” under the current circumstances and if no action was taken.

The company is due to meet credit rating agencies to review its financial situation shortly after it presents full-year earnings on Feb. 25.

Big Repsol shareholders Spanish lender Caixabank and Spanish construction firm Sacyr have tended to pressure the company to maintain the dividend, given both rely on it for profit.

Caixabank, which has two people on Repsol’s board, earned 308 million euros in dividends from its 11.1 percent stake in 2014, about half the lender’s profits.

Sacyr, which also has two people on the board, earns 120 million euros from its 8.7 percent stake, of which half is used to pay off interest and the other half to repay the loan used to buy the stake, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.

Repsol could also sell part or all of its 5.3 billion euros of shares in Spanish energy company Gas Natural, in order to cut the debt it accumulated mainly after its $8.3 billion takeover of Canadian peer Talisman in 2014.

“We believe it is becoming more and more likely that Repsol may need to consider selling at least part of its stake in Gas Nat to shore up its balance sheet,” Filipe Rosa, an analyst at Haitong Research, said in a note. ($1 = 0.9200 euros) (Editing by Julien Toyer and Susan Thomas)

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