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Encana may cut dividend in ‘radical change’

New president and CEO of Encana Doug Suttles answers questions during a media round table in Calgary, June 11, 2013. Investors expecting Mr Suttles to roll out a grand vision during his first conference call this week will be disappointed.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Encana Corp. chief executive Doug Suttles said in September his company needs "radical change." He was trying to comfort investors, and he pulled out all the buzzwords: He wants Encana to focus, prioritize, show discipline, and allocate capital more wisely. The market welcomed Mr. Suttles's attitude, but wants to see action.

Encana's investors and analysts are keenly aware the struggling natural gas company needs to address its dividend. Some investors are bordering on begging the company to pay them less cash each month. Cutting the dividend would classify as a radical change, and with Encana reporting third-quarter results Wednesday, Mr. Suttles could make a move.

"We expect Encana to address its dividend policy," Greg Pardy, an analyst for RBC Dominion Securities Inc., said in a note to clients last week.

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Encana will pay out about $600-million in dividends in 2013, giving shareholders 80 cents per share. This, Mr. Pardy notes, is 24 per cent of the $2.5-billion in operating cash flow he expects the company to post this year.

Given that math, Mr. Pardy thinks Encana may chop its dividend in half.

Encana's dividend has long been sacred. But Mr. Suttles in September hinted he isn't married to it. And he has no attachment to Encana's extreme multitasking. The company, he noted last month, has dibs on roughly 28 different properties or projects. It is spending on all of them. He is not a fan.

And so Mr. Suttles, who joined the company in June, could choose to tackle Encana's dividend troubles through asset sales rather than axing its dividend. The Calgary-based company planned to sell between $500-million to $1-billion in assets in 2013 – and that was before Mr. Suttles mulled over the company's blueprints.

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About the Author

Carrie Tait joined the Globe in January, 2011, mainly reporting on energy from the Calgary bureau. Previously, she spent six years working for the National Post in both Calgary and Toronto. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario and a bachelor’s degree in political studies from the University of Saskatchewan. More

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