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CAML plays it safe with dividend deferral

AIM-listed base metals producer Central Asia Metals (CAML) has decided to defer its final dividend for 2019 to guard against any potential negative financial impact from COVID-19.
CAML plays it safe with dividend deferral CAML plays it safe with dividend deferral CAML plays it safe with dividend deferral CAML plays it safe with dividend deferral CAML plays it safe with dividend deferral

CAML's Kounrad copper recovery plant near the city of Balkhash in central Kazakhstan

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CAML's operations in Kazakhstan and North Macedonia remain unaffected by the pandemic, despite confirmed cases in both countries increasing from about 20 to 350 over the past two weeks.

However, CAML's CEO Nigel Robinson said there was an "overhanging risk going into Q2".

"It's that risk that has informed us really that - given [circumstances] could change in 24 hours and you go into care and maintenance - a decision [was necessary] to pay no final dividend and obviously revisit that when we come out the other end of this," Robinson told Mining Journal.

Robinson said the company was in a "strong position" financially, with US$80 million in net debt but US$32.6 million in the bank. The company also has lines open on a Macedonian overdraft facility, which Robinson said it could draw on to the tune of about US$5 million.

"We've got a good strong balance sheet and we've had a good Q1 with no interruptions so we've still got a lot of cash in the bank to support us," said Robinson.

However, the CEO conceded that "even though we've got a strong balance sheet, it's a small balance sheet".

"You've got to be overly prudent in this instance and make sure that you can survive it and then you can review it when you come out the other side," he said.

The timeline for re-evaluating the payment would depend on the severity of COVID-19's impact on North Macedonia and Kazakhstan, said Robinson.

"It could be a month, [it] could be 3 months, [it] could be 6 months - I would hope it's at the other end of this quarter really, but we'll have to see how the disease spreads," he said.

Analysts from Canadian bank suggested CAML may have played it too safe with the deferral.

"We do wonder whether CAML with its relatively low-cost position and track record for returns should have halted its dividend completely? We note to match last year's total payout it would have required an $11 mn payout vs. the group's $33 mn cash balance, we think even half of this may have been taken better than zero dividend," said RBC analyst James Bell.

"Our rough calculations suggest the group could weather more than 6 months of operational shutdown and still make it through the COVID-19 situation," said Bell.

Alexander Pearce from BMO struck a more forgiving tone, saying "the decision is unlikely to have been taken lightly and, with expectations of strong FCF generating assets (2020E yield 13%) there remains potential to revisit the dividend later in the year".