* Rusal repays part of debt from free cash flow
* Rusal shareholders vote against H1 dividend (Adds details, context about dividends)
MOSCOW, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Russia’s Rusal has repaid 27 billion roubles ($371 million) of debt to Russia’s largest lender Sberbank ahead of schedule, the aluminium giant said in a statement on Friday, as its shareholders voted against a first-half dividend payment.
Rusal, the world’s third largest aluminium producer behind China’s Chinalco and Hongqiao, has increased its focus on reducing its total debt, which was $7.9 billion at the end of June, and also wants to modernise its assets.
That coincides with President Vladimir Putin’s call for Russian exporters to invest more at home to help the coronavirus-hit economy. The government raised taxes on exports of aluminium and other metals.
Rusal still owes Sberbank $2.1 billion and 79.5 billion roubles as part of the loan, which is due at the end of 2027 and is secured against part of Rusal’s 25.5% stake in metals miner Nornickel, it said.
The early payment was made in August from Rusal’s free cash flow, a substantial part of which was contributed by Nornickel’s dividend payments to Rusal, the aluminium producer added.
Aluminium prices are strong, but Rusal has been cautious about its prospects for 2021 due to rising Russian taxes and instability in Guinea, where 42% of Rusal’s bauxite capacity, needed for aluminium production, is based.
Shareholders at Rusal, which last paid a dividend for 2017, voted against a first-half payment on Sept 9, despite a call for support by Sual Partners, which owns a 25.6% stake in Rusal and has been sceptical about Rusal’s plan to demerge higher carbon assets.
Sual, owned by Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg and his partners, failed to find enough support among other shareholders. The results of the vote showed on Friday that 62% of the votes at the meeting were against the dividend. ($1 = 72.7300 roubles) (Reporting by Polina Devitt and Anastasia Lyrchikova; editing by Elaine Hardcastle)