ROME / MILAN (Reuters) – The 5.5 billion euros in dividends that Fiat Chrysler aims to pay to its shareholders in the context of its merger with PSA could be subject to scrutiny by the Italian authorities with whom the manufacturer has sought a guarantee on a loan of 6.3 billion euros, we learned Tuesday from a government source.
The hypothesis of the payment of a dividend of such magnitude at a time when the health crisis linked to the coronavirus has forced many industries to request state support arouses in Rome a lively controversy and fuels tensions within the government led by Giuseppe Conte.
"In discussions with the group, the exceptional dividend has not yet been discussed. But if you ask me if the government will not impose any conditions in the near future, I would say that it is too early to say", said the Reuters source.
Fiat Chrysler (FCA) announced last week that its Italian side was working with the Italian government so that the latter guarantees 80% of a loan of 6.3 billion euros which should allow it to overcome the economic fallout from the health crisis.
The use of debt does not in itself constitute an obstacle to the payment of the exceptional dividend provided for in the merger agreement, on the one hand because it must not be made before 2021, on the other hand because it must be by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, a Dutch entity.
"Most of us oppose the payment of the FCA super-dividend," a senior source within the majority of the government coalition, M5S, told Reuters.
But Minister of Economy Roberto Gualtieri stressed on Monday that the prospect of the merger of FCA and PSA, the world's number 4 potential in the automotive sector, justifies a boost from Rome.
"What the government has done and what it will continue to do is to provide cash to anchor FCA in Italy," said the minister from the Democratic Party, a member of the government coalition.
FCA and PSA announced last week that they have waived dividends for fiscal 2019 "due to the coronavirus pandemic".
(With Francesca and Giselda Vagnoni; French version Nicolas Delame)