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Occidental Cuts Dividend to a Penny With Debt Woes Mounting


By Joe Carroll and Kevin Crowley

(Bloomberg) Occidental Petroleum Corp. cut its quarterly dividend by 91% to the lowest since at least the 1970s amid the pandemic-driven collapse in energy demand that has strained the oil explorer’s ability to shoulder its debt.

Occidental shareholders will receive a penny per share on July 15, the Houston-based company said in a statement Friday. The move extends a cut announced in March when it trimmed the payout to 11 cents from 79 cents.

The surprise cut came the same day under-fire Chief Executive Vicki Hollub and the rest of the board of directors won re-election at Occidental’s annual shareholders’ meeting. The company will announce the final vote tallies in a regulatory filing later.

Borrowing Burden

Hollub has weathered extreme pressure from shareholders ever since outbidding Chevron Corp. to win the purchase of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. last year. The deal saddled Occidental with some $40 billion of debt that was looking hard to pay off even before Covid-19 wiped out global oil demand, sending crude prices plunging to an unprecedented minus $40 a barrel at one point last month.

The benchmark U.S. oil price rebounded 88% in May to close the month above $35 a barrel, but it’s still 44% down from its high point in January and below a level that would ensure healthy cash flow for most producers.

The dividend reduction will save Occidental about $360 million a year, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the wall of debt due over the coming years. The company probably kept a token payout to avoid mandatory selling of the stock by dividend funds and to signal that it aims to restock the stipend at some point in the future, according to Leo Mariani, an analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets.

“They need that extra money at $35 a barrel oil, so it’s the right move,” Mariani said by phone. “They’ve got to do whatever they can to survive.”

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says

Already reeling from elevated debt, a weak fundamental backdrop and investors disgruntled by the Anadarko deal, Occidental doesn’t have many near-term positives we can speak to.

— Vincent G. Piazza and Evan Lee, analysts

Read the full report here.

The company’s primary focus is on “maximizing liquidity and reducing debt,” Hollub said at the annual meeting, held virtually on Friday.

The company has gone from being a steady, diversified oil producer to a debt-laden, shale-focused driller that now has a market value of just $11.7 billion, less than a third of the price it paid for Anadarko. Its credit rating was downgraded to junk in March.

The stock dropped 5.1% to $12.95 in New York on a day when West Texas Intermediate oil futures jumped more than 5%.

Hollub fended off a shareholder revolt by making peace with the company’s second-largest shareholder, billionaire Carl Icahn, ending a nine-month public battle that included personal barbs against the CEO. However, it came at a cost. Hollub and her fellow directors agreed to cede some control by putting nominees of the activist investor on the board.



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