Threat to Extra Payout Sparks $6.4 Billion Rout at Petrobras

(Bloomberg) -- Investors in Brazilian state-controlled oil producer Petroleo Brasileiro SA just got another reminder that an industry-leading dividend bonanza is fading.

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The Rio de Janeiro-based company, known as Petrobras, said on Monday that it proposed changes that could reduce how much it pays in dividends, and is reviewing how it appoints senior management and members of its fiscal council. Four of the eleven board members, who represent minority shareholders, pushed back and voted against the proposal, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named discussing events at the meeting.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose administration appoints the majority of the oil producer’s board, has been calling for Petrobras to prioritize investments in refining and renewable-energy investments over dividends. In July, the company set a more conservative policy for shareholder payouts, curbing dividends to 45% of its free cash flow — down from 60%.

The proposed changes to bylaws could narrow the potential for future extraordinary dividend payments, according to analysts and traders. The board proposed the creation of a capital-remuneration reserve that could be used to other purposes apart from paying dividends, such as share buybacks or absorbing losses.

The reserve proposal “increases uncertainties in our forecast for the payment of a potential extraordinary dividend,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts led by Bruno Amorim wrote in a note. “Additionally, we note that the proposal leaves room for the nomination of politically exposed individuals for management positions.”

Petrobras didn’t reply to an emailed message seeking additional comment.

Preferred shares of Petrobras closed 6.6% lower in Sao Paulo on Monday, leading losses on the benchmark Ibovespa equity index and erasing about 32 billion reais ($6.38 billion) in market capitalization.

Petrobras is set to unveil a new five-year strategic plan that is expected to be larger than the previous $78 billion budget. The oil giant plans to earmark up to 15% of its total investments toward renewable energy and low carbon projects — a move that has traders fretting that Petrobras will shift its focus to less profitable projects.

(Updates to market close and adds lost market value in seventh paragraph.)

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