Brazil’s Petrobras Curbs Politically Fraught Dividend Payments

Brazil’s state-controlled oil giant Petrobras is curbing shareholder payouts after a political blowup over its dividends.

Updated14 May 2024
Brazil’s Petrobras Curbs Politically Fraught Dividend Payments
Brazil’s Petrobras Curbs Politically Fraught Dividend Payments

(Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s state-controlled oil giant Petrobras is curbing shareholder payouts after a political blowup over its dividends. 

Petrobras’s board approved 1.04 reais a share, or 13.45 billion reais ($2.6 billion), in dividends from the first quarter, it said in a regulatory filing Monday. Analysts were expecting $3.2 billion, according to the average of five estimates reviewed by Bloomberg. 

A recent tug of war over Petrobras’s 2023 extraordinary dividends roiled markets and fueled rumors that Petrobras Chief Executive Officer Jean Paul Prates’s job was at risk. In the end, Petrobras wound up delivering 50% of available payouts to investors. The government is the biggest shareholder and the dividends have helped shore up a fiscal deficit at a time spending is on the rise. 

Still, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva continues to criticize how much Petrobras pays out to private investors. Petrobras was the second-biggest dividend payer among major oil companies last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

Read More: Petrobras Shareholders OK Dividend After Weeks of Drama 

The first quarter dividends are less than the $5 billion Petrobras paid out a year ago under a more generous policy, and less than the $2.9 billion it agreed to pay from fourth-quarter earnings. The first quarter dividends were in line with its policy of paying out 45% of free cash flow, Petrobras said in the filing, down from 60% before management changed under Lula.

Going forward, Petrobras’s board could decide to distribute more of the funds earmarked for extraordinary dividends. Petrobras’s industry-leading shareholder payouts have encouraged many investors to own the stock, despite the risks of a state-controlled company that is often called upon to contain fuel inflation at the expense of profits. 

The main question is if “extraordinary dividends become recurring,” Citi analysts wrote in a note to clients.

Investors are concerned that increased capital expenditures will reduce returns in the coming years. In February, Prates said that the company would be more cautious about issuing blockbuster payouts because it plans to spend more on wind, solar and biofuels — business segments that are viewed as less profitable than producing oil and gas. 

Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the company is formally know, reported adjusted earnings before items of 60 billion reais, missing the 69 billion-real average estimate of analysts tracked by Bloomberg. Net income was 23.7 billion reais, below consensus.  

The company’s quarter was marked by scheduled stoppages which resulted in lower sales volumes and higher imports.

Read More: Big Oil’s Blockbuster $114 Billion Investor Payout Is Most Ever

The latest results from Petrobras’s international peers were mixed and left investors looking for direction on future results. Shell Plc, TotalEnergies SE and Chevron Corp. did better than expected, while Exxon Mobil Corp.’s profit fell short. All of the companies kept their focus on returning cash to shareholders and are looking at share buybacks after returning blockbuster dividends las year. 

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