Russian privatization plan to flower in the spring?

By bne IntelliNews March 15, 2012

Graham Stack in Moscow -

A number of privatization deals are struggling to sprout in the spring air, with the government likely to make use of improved market conditions to sell a 7.6% stake in Sberbank in April, according to media reports. However, reports also suggest that privatization cheerleader and Economy Minister Elvira Naibuillina is in danger of losing her job in an upcoming reshuffle, which could slow the whole process.

Alongside the Sberbank stake, an SPO of VTB stock, IPO of Gazprom Media and the sale of a 10% stake in technology holding Rusnano are also in the offing. Vedomosti reported on March 15.

Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper says the Central Bank of Russia is considering taking advantage of improved market conditions since the start of the year to sell the 7.6% in Sberbank, probably in the second half of April. The placement has been on the cards since September 2011, with the majority shareholder looking for RUB100 per share. The share price is currently at RUB103.

"With Russian banks remaining one of the best plays on upbeat global macro sentiment and Sberbank offering the best exposure to it, we believe that demand will be strong and the placement has every reason to be successful," write VTB Capital analysts.

An SPO of 10% in the state's other banking giant VTB could follow in the autumn, according to the report, which notes previous quotes from CEO Andrey Kostin that the offering could be a combination of new and existing shares. However, analysts at Renaissance Capital suggest its too early for another listing. "[W]e think the market currently has no appetite for [a VTB] placement so soon after the previous SPO and the Bank of Moscow debacle," they write in a note, "and it will take some time to mend bridges before a placement can take place."

The government is also mulling the sale of a 10% stake in Rusnano, said deputy CEO Oleg Kiselyov, in a move which would mark the first privatization of one of the state corporations set up 2007-2008 to develop Russian technology. A November-December sale has been penciled in, depending on market conditions.

Gazprom Media, which owns influential TV channel NTV and Kremlin-bashing radio station Ekho Moskvy, could also see an IPO in 2012 according to the report. In a series of pre-election articles, Prime minister Vladimir Putin called for state companies to divest themselves of non-core assets, including those in the media - a clear reference to the gas giant's holding. However, Gazprom Media vice-president Nikolai Senkevich said that Gazprombank - through which the company is held - is not considering an outright sale of the asset, which it regards as strategic.

Casting a shadow over the whole privatization drive however is a report in Izvestiya on March 15 suggesting that Nabiullina may be replaced by Health Minister Tatyana Golikova. Nabiullina has helped lead the ongoing fight against widespread resistance to the privatization push since it was announced in late 2010. One of the main opponents of reducing the Kremlin's role in the economy is Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, whose cause has been greatly aided by the battering market sentiment has taken during the debt crisis in the Eurozone.

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