$15bn worth of Surgutneftegaz shares go missing

By bne IntelliNews May 2, 2013

bne -

Tight lipped oil major Surgutneftegaz released its financial results to investors for the first time in 11 years on April 30, only to reveal that $15bn worth of treasury shares have disappeared from its books.

The fate of the shares has long intrigued investors but the company has one of the most secretive management teams in the business. It was an investigation into the company's structure that got former Hermitage Capital's manager Bill Browder's visa nixed and began the slow demise of what was once the biggest foreign fund invested into Russia. Browder told bne at the time that it was Surgut's management that ordered his visa withdrawn.

The company reported in the last financials issued over a decade ago that it had a stake of 17.6bn treasury shares, or about 40% of the company's capitalization, on its books. However, the latest accounts say the company now holds only 650,000 treasury shares.

Surgutneftegaz has stonewalled all requests for an explanation, and as the senior management live and spend most of their time in the company town of Surgut, no one has much access. The company says it has nothing to add to the documents it has already released.

Analysts and investors are disappointed, as Surgutneftegaz is one of Russia's better run oil companies. The rest of the accounts are in order. The company said it has $29bn in cash, roughly what analysts were expecting. However, the market capitalization of the company is also $30bn - equivalent to its cash pile, which means investors give it no credit at all for the oil in owns in the ground, nor that which it produces.

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