* To pay quarterly div of 2.60 Norwegian crowns per share
* Q4 net loss 35.9 mln euros vs year-ago profit of 209.7 mln
* Salmon output for 2018 expected to be 410,000 tonnes (Adds analysts, detail, background)
By Joachim Dagenborg
OSLO, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Marine Harvest, the world’s largest fish farmer, set a smaller-than-expected fourth-quarter dividend on Wednesday and launched a plan to cut costs by 50 million euros ($62 million).
The company will pay a quarterly dividend of 2.60 Norwegian crowns per share, compared with 3.40 in the third quarter, while analysts in a Reuters poll on average had expected a payout of 2.92 crowns.
The lower payout was likely to disappoint investors, said brokerage Sparebank 1 Markets, which holds a “sell” recommendation on the stock.
Marine Harvest, controlled by Norwegian-born billionaire John Fredriksen, reported a 30 percent year-on-year decline in its fourth-quarter operating result to 181 million euros, beating a preliminary 177 million reported on Jan. 16.
Salmon prices peaked at around 80 Norwegian crowns ($10.20) per kilo in early January 2017 when supply constraints were supporting prices, but have since fallen to around 50 crowns per kilo as volumes grew.
The company’s salmon output for 2018 is expected to be 410,000 tonnes, the company said, in line with its previous forecast, while analysts on average had predicted production of to 415,000 tonnes.
The company now expects the global salmon industry’s 2018 output to grow by between 3 and 8 percent from the previous year, from an earlier forecast of 4 to 9 percent.
The company said it was concerned by a rise in costs and that it plans to implement cuts in all parts of its organisation.
The board raised the company’s net debt target by 150 million euros to a total of 1.2 billion euros, which analysts said would enable higher dividends.
“We will increase our dividend estimate for 2018 taking into account (the) higher net debt target,” said brokerage Nordea Markets, which rates the stock “sell”.
The company fell to a net loss of 35.9 million euros in the quarter from a year-ago profit of 209.7 million, reflecting a lower valuation of its global fish stock and writedowns in its Chilean business.
“Marine Harvest Chile has 187 seawater licenses, and a large part of the capacity is unused. Based on an assessment of the recent regulatory changes for fish farming in Chile and estimated volumes ... the value-in-use of the licenses is considered to be impaired,” it said.
Brokers Nordea and Handelsbanken both predicted a neutral share price reaction when markets open on Wednesday. ($1 = 0.8079 euros) ($1 = 7.8414 Norwegian crowns) (Additional reporting by Ole Petter Skonnord; Writing by Terje Solsvik; Editing by David Holmes)