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Gazprom May Cut Dividends Up to 44% on Ukrainian Debt, VTB Says

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) -- OAO Gazprom, the world’s largest natural-gas producer, may cut the dividend it hands out from this year’s earnings by as much as 44 percent because of unpaid bills from Ukraine, according to brokerage VTB.

The Russian state-run gas exporter said today its first-half profit according to Russian accounting standards, used to calculate dividends, sank 38 percent to 155 billion rubles ($4.3 billion) because of a 179 billion-ruble provision for bad debts. Gazprom made the provision mainly because of Ukraine, the company’s spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said by text message.

“Risk to dividends crystallized,” VTB Capital in Moscow said in an e-mailed note. “In the very worst case,” Gazprom’s 2014 dividend, which would be paid out to shareholders next year, may fall to 4 rubles a share from 7.2 rubles, analysts led by Dmitry Loukashov said in the note.

Gazprom trades at 2.7 times estimated earnings, the lowest among its 15 major peers worldwide, amid the worst standoff between Russia, the U.S. and the European Union since the Cold War over the conflict in Ukraine.

The Moscow-based exporter stopped its supplies to Ukraine on June 16 over a price and debt dispute. The smaller country is preparing to retaliate. It is considering a ban on Gazprom gas deliveries to Europe through Ukrainian pipelines, flows that meet about 15 percent of the EU’s needs.

Worst Scenario

The worst scenario would be if no agreement with Ukraine was reached and Russian gas supplies were stalled, VTB said.

“A situation whereby Ukraine starts unauthorized gas tapping in November-December cannot be ruled out,” the analysts wrote. “This would be followed by a halt of gas deliveries to Europe.”

NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy, the Ukrainian state energy company, owes Gazprom $5.3 billion, according to the gas exporter. Ukraine rejects the sum, demanding a new price.

Russia itself may disrupt winter gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine in a repeat of its action in 2009, Andriy Kobolyev, chief executive officer of Naftogaz, said yesterday.

Kupriyanov declined to comment on planned gas talks with Ukraine, expected in September, and dividend estimations.

Blue Sky

Even in a “blue sky scenario” Gazprom may decrease dividend payments next year to 6.9 rubles a share, according to VTB. That would occur if “Ukraine pays its debt in full by the end of the year and in addition the parties agree to renew gas deliveries at, say, the average price for Gazprom’s European deliveries,” it said.

Last month, the Russian Finance Ministry estimated that Gazprom’s dividends may rise 5 percent next year.

The company’s revenue from its main European market should decrease anyway because the region’s gas demand is weaker and the prices would be lower than last year, Ekaterina Rodina, an oil and gas analyst at VTB, said by phone. “That’s even not connected with sanctions against Russia, just normal market reasons,” she said.

Gazprom said today that some European countries may be more active in searching for alternatives to replace Russian gas amid sanctions against the nation. Gazprom is “optimizing price policy” and widening markets to reduce that risk, it said without providing any further details.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elena Mazneva in Moscow at emazneva@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at wkennedy3@bloomberg.net Tony Barrett, Randall Hackley

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