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National Fuel Gas vote was 4-to-1 in rejection of spinoff

When National Fuel Gas Co. shareholders voted against a shareholder proposal to spin off its utility business into a separate company, they did it by a ratio of more than 4-to-1.

More than 80 percent of the shares that were voted on investor Mario Gabelli’s proposal to divide the Amherst energy company into two separate businesses were opposed to the plan, National Fuel said in a regulatory filing.

Slightly under 18 percent of the nearly 67 million shares that were voted supported the plan to spin off National Fuel’s utility business, according to a filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. Gabelli’s Gamco Investors investment management business owns a 9.1 percent stake in National Fuel, so its shares accounted for more than half of the votes cast in favor of the spinoff.

The defeat of Gabelli’s spinoff proposal was revealed at National Fuel’s annual meeting in Florida last Thursday, but the company did not disclose the vote total until it made the filing with the SEC on Monday.

Gabelli, National Fuel’s biggest shareholder, argued that the company’s share price is being depressed because it mixes the lower-risk utility business with a much chancier but faster-growing oil and natural gas drilling operation, as well as a growing pipeline business.

National Fuel, on the other hand, contended that the diverse mix of businesses made its operations less volatile and helped it maintain an investment-grade credit rating that reduced its borrowing costs for its growing pipeline and drilling businesses.