YPF Lets Officials Attend Meeting to Ease Government Spat

YPF SA, Argentina’s largest oil producer, allowed government officials to attend a board meeting today and delayed a decision on its dividend as the government steps up pressure on the company to boost investment.

Energy Secretary Daniel Cameron and Deputy Economy Minister Axel Kicillof, barred from a Feb. 23 board meeting, accompanied Roberto Baratta, who represents the government on YPF’s board, according to an e-mailed statement from the planning ministry. The board delayed a decision on its dividend to discuss what to do with the cash available, YPF said in a separate statement.

YPF is facing mounting pressure from President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government and oil-producing provinces to boost investments amid output declines and rising fuel imports. Three provinces have issued orders urging YPF to increase spending since last week. The pressure has fueled speculation Kirchner is seeking to nationalize the company.

The government is looking for legal ways to acquire control of YPF, Buenos Aires-based newspaper Ambito Financiero reported on Feb. 29. A month earlier, Pagina 12 newspaper said government officials had discussed re-nationalizing YPF, which was sold to investors in 1993. Madrid-based Repsol YPF SA acquired control of the company six years later.

Walked Away

Baratta walked away from the previous meeting after YPF barred Kicillof and Cameron. Six days later, Argentina’s securities regulator annulled decisions made during the meeting by declaring it “irregular” and “inefficient” because the government officials weren’t allowed to participate. YPF appealed the ruling March 5.

The government wants the company to use the cash for the 2011 dividends for investments in oil exploration and production as well as in refining, according the the Planning ministry’s statement today. The dividends for 2010, which have not yet been distributed, should also be used for investments, the government said.

Today’s Meeting

In today’s meeting, the board approved the company’s 2011 earnings, which included a 5.3 billion peso ($1.2 billion) profit, according to the regulatory filing. Chairman Antonio Brufau participated via videoconference from Madrid, where he heads Repsol, the controlling shareholder in YPF, a company official, who cannot be named under corporate policy, said. Baratta declined to approve the accounts.

YPF rose 2.2 percent to 137.5 pesos at 4:26 p.m. in Buenos Aires. It’s down 18 percent so far this year, compared with a 8.5 percent increase in the benchmark Merval index.

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