October 15, 2015 / 7:13 AM / 2 years ago

UPDATE 2-Repsol shifts strategy focus from growth to rating, dividend

* Repsol to sell assets worth 6.2 bln euros by 2020

* Trims Capex, boosts savings to ensure dividend payments

* Will cut debt by 45 pct to secure investment grade rating

* Shares fall 2 percent (Adds CEO quotes, analysts)

By Julien Toyer and Jose Elías Rodríguez

MADRID, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Spanish oil major Repsol abandoned its growth ambitions on Thursday to focus on protecting its investment grade rating and ensuring a generous dividend against a backdrop of lower crude prices.

The strategy shift came just 10 months after Repsol bought Canadian peer Talisman in a $8.3 billion deal that boosted its international profile and output but increased its debt and put the company on the back foot to weather the energy prices slump.

Echoing similar moves from European competitors, Repsol said it would step up asset sales, trim exploration and production investments (Capex) and cut costs in order to generate more cash, pay back debt and maintain its 1-euro-per-share dividend.

"The growth history of Repsol is over, now we will be focusing on efficiency," Chief Executive Officer Jose Jon Imaz told analysts after presenting a new 2016-2020 strategic plan.

"We can't be everywhere doing everything. We have to focus where we are better than others or where we can compete with others."

Repsol said it would sell assets worth 6.2 billion euros ($7.1 billion) by 2020, starting with the most Capex intensive ones and those that present higher profitability risks.

Imaz said any potential sale of part or all of the 30 percent stake in Gas Natural, currently not under consideration, would come on top of that.

Repsol also committed to cut Capex by around 40 percent in the next 4 years while the company would deliver annual synergies and efficiency savings of 2.1 billion euros by 2018.

That would enable the group to generate 10 billion euros of cash by 2020 that would be used to almost halve its 14-billion-euro debt and return around 3.6 billion euros to shareholders.

Imaz said Repsol would consider increasing the dividend or paying more of it in cash if energy prices recovered.

DELIVERY

Yet, the announcements were received cautiously by investors. Repsol shares dropped 2 percent by 1215 GMT, extending losses of 27 percent over the last three months and 20 percent year to date.

Analysts welcomed the steps taken by the management to ease the financial pressure on the group's balance sheet but said delivering some of the targets will be tough to achieve.

They also said the refining margin target of $6.4 per barrel contained in the plan looked ambitious given the $3.8 per barrel average margin achieved since 2010.

The refining margin, which was close to record highs at $8.9 per barrel in the third quarter, has helped shore up the balance sheet so far this year and any reduction would hit profits.

Repsol had said on Wednesday its net profit could fall by up to 22 percent in 2015, hit by low oil prices and a loss of value of some of its North American assets that will trigger a 450 million euros impairment charge in the third quarter.

The group said it was still aiming for a full-year increase in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) but it switched to a target cleaned of inventory effects (CCS), which is deemed easier to achieve.

The firm previously saw its 2015 EBITDA at between 5 billion and 5.5 billion euros, or an increase of up to 45 percent from 2014. It now sees its CCS EBITDA at between 5.2 billion and 5.45 billion euros, or an increase of up to 15 percent from 2014.

Repsol targets a CCS EBITDA of 7.9 billion euros by 2020. ($1 = 0.8705 euros) (Reporting by Julien Toyer and Jose Elias Rodriguez; Editing by Paul Day/Mark Heinrich)

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