Russia's economy minister names companies to be privatised

By bne IntelliNews February 3, 2016

Russian state-controlled oil majors Rosneft and Bashneft as well as diamond producer Alrosa could be the first three companies to be privatised this year, Minister of Economic Development Alexei Ulykayev said on February 3.

Since late 2015, the government in Moscow has renewed privatisation efforts that have dragged for five years in the largely state-controlled economy. While President Vladimir Putin is averse to a hasty sell-off, new Kremlin attention to the issue amid efforts to plug the gaps in the budget could signal a decision to finally proceed with selling part of the assets.

"These [Rosneft, Bashneft, and Alrosa] are companies already on the privatisation list," Ulyukayev said, adding that they are already traded on stock markets, are "legally and technically" equipped for privatisation, and are familiar to the investors.

The government's shares in Bashneft and Alrosa are together reportedly worth some RUB600 bn ($7.5bn) at current market prices, and a 19.5% share in Rosneft earmarked for sale could raise a further RUB500bn ($6.5bn).

At a Kremlin meeting on the issue on February 1, Putin drew the lines for the privatisations, stipulating that controlling stakes remain with the state, that there will be no give-away prices, and that buyers can only be Russian-registered investors who are equipped with a strategic plan for the acquired assets and not using debt financing from Russian state banks.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported on February 2 citing unnamed officials close to the discussion, that 4% of Rosneft could be sold on MICEX stock exchange. However, there is reluctance to do so considering the current low price of the company's shares.

"It is possible to sell these assets, but it will be a serious effort," the deputy head of the Moscow Exchange Andrei Shemetov commented.

The Kremlin is also reportedly considering reducing state stakes in Russian Railways, Aeroflot, Sovcomflot and state-controlled lender VTB, the heads of which were also present at the meeting with Putin.

Capital Economics commented on February 3 that even if the government goes ahead with privatisation the plans, this is unlikely to result in a structural change in Russia’s economy and a pick-up in productivity growth that is usually associated with privatisation.

Unnamed former state officials and finance market sources told Reuters they see the Kremlin as keeping a firm rein on the process to make assets more affordable for politically connected businessmen who can buy low on the unfavourable current market.

The privatisation rules tabled by Putin will accordingly be linked in public to the government's "de-offshorisation" efforts to bring money back to Russia, while ensuring that the assets are not sold off too cheaply to avoid an outcry, the sources said.

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