By Polina Devitt
MOSCOW, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Russian nickel and palladium giant Norilsk Nickel may triple dividend payments, sources said on Wednesday, helping its main owners cut debt and rewarding new investor Roman Abramovich for his role in ending a shareholder dispute.
Norilsk's main owners - feuding billionaires Vladimir Potanin and Oleg Deripaska - are discussing with Abramovich the payout of dividends totalling $10 billion from 2012-2014, two sources close to the shareholders said.
'This opportunity is under discussion for a three-year period, starting from 2012,' one said.
A major dividend stream would satisfy Deripaska, main owner of aluminium giant RUSAL, which is saddled with $10.7 billion in net debts largely inherited from its purchase of a one-quarter stake in Norilsk before the 2008 financial crash.
Deripaska fought a four-year battle with Potanin, who owns 28 percent of Norilsk through his investment firm Interros, over strategy, governance and control of cash flows that was finally resolved on Tuesday.
Chelsea soccer club owner Abramovich also stands to benefit from increased dividends following his acquisition of a 7.3 percent stake in Norilsk, worth $2 billion, which he has agreed to hold for three years.
The prospect of juicy dividend payouts sent Norilsk's shares 6 percent higher in Moscow, to 5,184 roubles ($170), late in the session.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?
The hefty payout looks a stretch for the Arctic miner, however, despite its reputation among investors as a cash cow capable of withstanding even the most severe industry downturn.
'Such a big dividend payment looks a bit aggressive, even if you take into account the $2 billion that Norilsk will get from Abramovich for his 7 percent stake,' said Sergey Donskoy, metals and mining analyst at Societe Generale.
Under a conservative commodities price forecast, Norilsk's net income may reach around $10 billion over a three year period from 2012 till 2014, Donskoy estimates.
'This (dividend) proposal may be based on strong commodities price expectations or on a significant decrease in capital expenditures. It's possible but I wonder if it's sustainable,' Donskoy added. He sees Norilsk annual capex at $2.3-2.5 billion during the next three years.
During the past three years Norilsk spent $3.6 billion on dividend payments, or 30 percent of its 2009-2011 profit from continuing operations.
Interros and RUSAL would not be able to sell shares for five years and Abramovich's firm Millhouse would not be able to sell a stake for three years, they said on Tuesday.
Under the complex transaction, Abramovich would buy quasi-treasury stock, with a further 10 percent stake held in treasury expected to be cancelled next spring.
As a result, Interros' economic stake in Norilsk would rise to 31 percent and RUSAL's to 28 percent.
The two investors would then transfer equal stakes of 7.3 percent to an escrow account controlled by Abramovich, bringing his voting interest to 22 percent, below Potanin's and above Deripaska's, one source familiar with the matter said.
RUSAL, Norilsk and Interros declined comment.
($1 = 30.8495 Russian roubles)
($1 = 30.8495 Russian roubles)
(additional reporting by Andrey Kuzmin; writing by Megan Davies and Polina Devitt; editing by Douglas Busvine and Keiron Henderson) Keywords: RUSSIA NORILSK/DIVIDENDS
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