QBE shareholders have vented their anger over the Australian insurer’s decision to slash their dividends.
Several mum and dad investors at QBE’s annual general meeting on Wednesday took the board to task for cutting the share of earnings it pays out to shareholders as dividends.
The global insurer flagged last year that it would shave the payout ratio from 70 to 50 per cent.
Analysts believe the move will equate to about five cents being trimmed off the 35 cents dividend QBE is due to pay in August.
Chairman Belinda Hutchinson said QBE needed to hold on to more cash to meet the financial regulator’s new capital requirements.
It also needed to absorb the hits to QBE’s profits from the global financial crisis and a spate of natural disasters in recent years.
However shareholders were not convinced and accused the insurer of giving them a raw deal.
“Why the draconian drop in the dividend that we all rely upon,” one shareholder said.
Ms Hutchinson said QBE had compared its dividend payout ratio against the world’s top 30 property and casualty insurers and found over two thirds were under 50 per cent.
IG Markets strategist Evan Lucas said slashing the dividend would hurt retail investors in the short term.
“On a longer term basis it could be a positive for shareholders because it could bring the company back to profitability,” he said.
“But on a short term basis it will hurt shareholders.”
Shareholders also raised concerns over a $2.34 million retirement payout to former chief executive Frank O’Halloran, with 39 per cent of proxy votes cast against it.
A third of proxy holders also protested against his long-term performance rights.
Ms Hutchinson said while the company no longer offers such retirement payments, it was common practice when the payout arrangement was struck in the 1990s.
Amid the anger over dividends and Mr O’Halloran’s payout, shareholders heard QBE was on track to meet its key financial targets this year as it embarks on a major transformation plan.
“We are at a stage in the global economic and insurance market cycle where there are encouraging signs of increasing premium rates, indications of positive economic growth in most of our key markets and improving investment markets, particularly longer term bond yields,” Ms Hutchinson said.
QBE in February reported a full year net profit of $US761 million and flagged major changes to its business to help save $US250 million in annual costs.
It expects to achieve a combined operating ratio of 92 per cent this year and an insurance profit margin of about 11 per cent.
QBE shares closed 48 cents, or 3.71 per cent, higher at $13.42.