Dividend desperadoes. We will find out in the next three weeks if Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals and BHP Billiton blink in maintaining or cutting their dividends after contradictory stances on Friday from two global resources giants in Chevron and Vale, the huge Brazilian miner, and a ratings warning last night for BHP. Vale revealed plans to scrap its dividends to save cash this year. Vale says its executive board has proposed a “zero” dividend this year to its supervisory board, which would then be subject to shareholder approval at the company’s annual meeting in April. Chevron decided to maintain its interim (US$1.07 a share), despite a shock fourth-quarter loss of US$588 million and a big slide in annual earnings to just US$4.6 billion from US$19.2 billion in 2014. Full-year dividends were US$4.28 a share, against US$4.21 a share in 2014, which was more than earnings per share of US$2.46 a share in 2015, sharply down from the US$10.21 in 2014. In other words, Chevron is self-liquidating to keep shareholders happy and is financing this by selling off assets, cutting staff and costs and spending. That is not a viable long term strategy. — Glenn Dyer
BHP cut, Shell cut. Overnight, Standard & Poor’s, the ratings group, increased the pressure on BHP by cutting its rating to A from A+ because of the downturn in commodities and warned the rating would be revisited after February 23, if BHP maintains its so-called progressive dividend policy (which is a commitment to either increase or maintain payouts to shareholders, much like what Chevron has done, and so far escaped censure from ratings groups) when it reports its interim financial results.
S&P also cut Shell’s rating to A+ from AA- because of the slide in oil and gas and little sign of an immediate improvement. S&P also warned that it would cut the ratings of other European majors as well (BP reports tonight and is a prime candidate, but US giant Exxon, which also reports tonight, should escape any downgrade at this stage). — Glenn Dyer
Macau’s slide continues. This year has so far brought little luck to Macau, and the big hope is the lunar new year next week will provide some respite to the relentless slide in gaming revenues. Figures issued yesterday showed January to be yet another black hole with a 21.4% slide in gaming revenues (and 35% in the past two years). Gaming revenues have fallen in every month since June 2014 as the Chinese attack on corruption has gathered pace. More than 100,000 people have been arrested and disciplined since the campaign started more than three years ago. The crackdown on corruption and its flow-on impact has flattened the Macau’s economy, which shrunk by 24% in the year to last September. Shares in James Packer’s Crown Resorts, which owns 33% of Melco Crown, a major Macau casino group, have reflected the slide in gaming revenues, with its shares down 25% in the last two years. But the fall in Crown’s share price could have been bigger — they have been supported in recent months by speculation that Packer could buy the rest of the company, or purchase some key assets, such as the Melco stake. — Glenn Dyer
Signs of life in Barbie. The fourth-quarterly report from Mattel Inc showed some welcome news for Barbie lovers around the world. The “tarting up” of the range of the famous doll with new looks introduced last year seems to have an immediate impact, with worldwide sales up 1% in the quarter and 8% on what’s called a constant currency basis (stripping out the rise in the value of the greenback in the past year). Sales of Hot Wheel toys were also up solidly in the quarter, but attention was focused on what was the first rise in Barbie sales for two years. Mattel’s quarterly profits jumped 40%, but sales edged up 0.2% because of the stronger dollar. The shares rose 8% in after-hours trading. So will the latest changes boost Barbie sales this year? If only she would learn to use her smartphone! — Glenn Dyer