With one big new pipeline project halted and regulatory consideration of another on hold, TransCanada Corp. hiked its quarterly dividend despite recording a $2.5 billion loss in the fourth quarter of 2015.
The company simultaneously announced further layoffs after cutting 10% of its staff in the last three months of last year. “I wouldn’t say we’re done at this point,” said CFO Don Marchand, after financial disclosures showed 5,512 employees on the TransCanada payroll at the end of 2015, down from 6,059 at the end of 2014.
TransCanada recorded a $2.9-billion write-down in the fourth quarter results released on February 11, after the United States turned down its proposed Keystone XL pipeline (The company is suing the U.S. government for US$15 billion in compensation for the decision.) Notwithstanding the loss, the Calgary-based pipeline company boosted its quarterly dividend by 18¢, to 56.6¢ per share. CEO Russ Girling claimed the company was poised to increase its dividend by 8% to 10% per year through 2020.
“Make no mistake,” he said of Keystone XL. “The need for the project is unchanged, and as long as our shippers remain interested in the project and committed to doing it, TransCanada will look for a way to make that project work, sometime in the future.”
Last week, meanwhile, the National Energy Board instructed TransCanada to reorganize thousands of pages of documentation supporting its application to build the Energy East pipeline to tidewater at Saint John, N.B., to be easier for the public and experts to understand. Chief Operating Officer Alex Pourbaix described that instruction as “more of a housekeeping kind of activity” and “a reasonable request. It will take us a bit of time and a bit of effort to do it. But it’s just really pretty simple stuff.”
The National Observer reported TransCanada admitting that “it was having trouble convincing some Canadians about the merits of its Energy East project,” adding that the company “would focus on a ‘grassroots’ communications plan to get its message out.” Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that TransCanada was expanding its Montreal office from 25 to 40 staff and hiring Louis Bergeron, the Quebec City chemical engineer who shepherded the $300-million Oléoduc Saint-Laurent from Lévis to Montreal, in a bid to gain social licence for the controversial project.
“I think a big part of this is communication,” Pourbaix said. “We just need to continue to get our message out. We need to do it at a grassroots level.”