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UPDATE 1-Russia's Sberbank targets 50% payout ratio, hopes sanctions not extreme

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MOSCOW, March 19 (Reuters) - Sberbank’s supervisory board has approved a 2020 dividend of 18.7 roubles per share, its chief executive German Gref said, adding that the Russian bank was aiming for payouts of at least 50% of net profit over the next three years.

Gref told reporters on a conference call that he could not say whether Sberbank could maintain dividends as high as the one it was paying shareholders based on last year’s results.

The recommended dividend for 2020 amounted to around 56% of net profit, or 422.4 billion roubles ($5.70 billion).

“Every year, depending on the loan portfolio growth, capital adequacy level, and other factors, we will decide on the amount that we can afford to pay,” Gref said on Friday.

The coronavirus crisis and a sharp drop in the price of oil, Russia’s key export, have pressured the banking sector and Sberbank this month missed a pre-pandemic target with a 10% drop in net profit in 2020 due to bad loan provisions.

Sberbank, which employs about 286,000 people, plans to keep a remote or mixed work format for nearly 30% of staff, and has already taken into account savings from office space reduction in its business plan, Gref said.

Gref said he hoped there would be no extreme United States sanctions against Russia, adding there was no need to discuss the use of central bank liquidity for state debt purchases.

Russian markets have been haunted by the risk of new sanctions against Moscow for months.

Comments this week by U.S. President Joe Biden, who said that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin would “pay a price” for election meddling, escalated the concerns.

Russia has dismissed these allegations. ($1 = 74.0775 roubles) (Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Anna Rzhevkina; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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