SAO PAULO, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Vale is entering a period in which it plans to pay out big dividends, Chief Executive Officer Fabio Schvartsman said on Friday at an event commemorating the Brazilian miner's inclusion in the Sao Paulo stock exchange's strictest listing market segment.
"Now is the era of the Vale dividends. Vale will become a big payer of dividends if everything goes well," Schvartsman said, reiterating that a new dividend plan would be released in March, without stating an amount.
In April Vale paid out 0.905 reais per share.
Vale shareholders, he said, supported the company in tough times when metal prices were low and now is "Vale's time to pay it back."
Inclusion of Vale shares in the so-called Novo Mercado segment of the Sao Paulo stock exchange came after the world's top iron ore producer converted different classes of stock into a single common one, reducing room for state interference.
In August, Vale's Chief Financial Officer Luciano Siani said the move would help the company lure more Asian investors and specialized mining and metals funds as shareholders.
Schvartsman echoed the sentiment on Friday.
"You see new names coming in, investors who have never entered before," Schvartsman said, adding that "large international funds" had started investing in the company, without giving further details.
The comments came a day after Vale said it will likely need to contribute 432 million reais ($130 million) in the first half of next year to cash-strapped Samarco, a joint venture with Anglo-Australian miner BHP Billiton.
Samarco's operations were halted two years ago after a tailings dam burst, killing 19 people and polluting rivers in Brazil's worst environmental disaster to date.
The money will go towards environmental restoration and will be deducted from a 3.7 billion-real provision made by Vale in the second quarter of last year, after signing an agreement to address environmental problems caused by the incident.
The company also said it intends to provide Samarco with short-term credit lines of up to $48 million to support the company in the first half of 2018.
BHP Billiton also intends to make short-term credit lines available as needed to Samarco, Vale said. ($1 = 3.3221 reais) (Reporting by Marta Nogueira; Editing by Edmund Blair and Phil Berlowitz)