March 5, 2020 / 8:52 AM / in 25 days

Russia's Polymetal weighs changes to dividend policy after record year

MOSCOW, March 5 (Reuters) - Polymetal, one of Russia’s largest gold and silver producers, is considering updating its dividend policy to make it more predictable, its chief financial officer said, after the company announced record-high earnings for 2019.

Polymetal, which distributed its highest-ever dividends for the previous year, said on Wednesday its 2019 net earnings rose 36% to $483 million due to stronger global gold prices and higher output.

“We are considering some possible refinements to our dividend policy,” finance chief Maxim Nazimok told Reuters. “Special dividends in their current form always come as something of a surprise to investors ... We are thinking about how to improve predictability.”

Polymetal’s board of directors will consider the updated policy towards mid-2020, the CFO added. Its total 2019 dividend payout will be $385 million, up from $223 million in 2018.

This includes a special dividend announced in January and a final dividend of $197 million announced on Wednesday.

The spread of the coronavirus this year has driven a further jump in gold prices in London.

Buoyed by higher gold prices, shares in Polymetal, part-owned by businessman Alexander Nesis, are up 8.6% so far this year in London.

“As a result of the coronavirus, everything is moving very quickly ... Objectively, volatility in the market has increased and gold has become very attractive as a safe-haven asset class,” Nazimok said.

The prices will not affect Polymetal’s output, he added. On Wednesday the company reiterated production guidance of 1.6 million troy ounces of gold equivalent, a mix of gold and other metals, for each of 2020 and 2021. It produced 1.61 million ounces in 2019.

Polymetal may reduce its net debt to EBITDA ratio, a measurement of debt burden, to below 1.4 in 2020 as its core earnings - EBITDA - are expected to rise on the back of higher gold prices. It has no plans to tap debt capital markets or make a share offering, Nazimok said.

He also said the company was considering a range of options for the future of its Kutyn gold project in Russia’s far east, adding it was worth at least two times higher than a “hopelessly outdated” earlier valuation of $40 million.

The company is considering all options for the project, Nazimok said, from a full sale to attracting partners and setting up a joint venture. (Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova; writing by Polina Ivanova; editing by Polina Devitt and David Evans)

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