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Mercator to Pay Dividends of EUR 7.2 per Share

Ljubljana, 22 April (STA) - Retailer Mercator said on Thursday it would pay dividends of EUR 7.2 gross per share for 2009, 60% more than the year before and higher than expected, in exchange for a promise from Slovenia's top three banks that they would not offload their Mercator stock until September 2012.

The banks NLB, NKBM and Abanka hold a combined 18.7% stake in Mercator that they mostly seized as collateral for soured loans.

Earlier this year they formed a consortium with several other banks to sell a combined 36% stake in Mercator, but the project fell through after NLB and its subsidiary Banka Celje backed out.

Mercator noted in a statement today that the significant chunk of the stock owned by banks posed a degree of uncertainty over the medium term and the dividends would "stabilise ownership structure".

It also said the EUR 27.1m it will pay out in total would not affect development plans, as it would offload some non-core assets and optimise management of current assets.

Moreover, the company has nearly EUR 250 in retained profit on the books from previous financial years.

According to adopted dividend policy, Mercator was expected to pay out dividends of EUR 4.75 gross this year.

In exchange for holding on to Mercator stock, the banks also demand dividends of EUR 8 in 2011 and EUR 8.8 in 2012.

Mercator saw its profit halved last year to EUR 21.1m on group sales that rose 4% to EUR 2.75bn.

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