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Source: Majors Offered IPO Stakes

State oil firm Rosneft has asked a number of existing or potential corporate partners to invest $500 million to $1 billion in its initial public offering, a source familiar with the IPO said Friday.

Rosneft is planning to raise $11 billion from an initial public offering of between 13 and 19 percent of its stock in London and Moscow on July 14.

The source said Rosneft had approached European and Asian partners -- mainly private companies but including "at least one" of BP and Shell -- over the past three to four months.

Rosneft's main partners are BP, India's ONGC and China's Sinopec and CNPC, as well as U.S. ExxonMobil.

But the source scotched media reports that some firms would end up with 5 to 10 percent in Rosneft.

"They're trying to strengthen a number of corporate relationships, rather than saying 'we want to bring in a big corporate investor,'" the source said. "[An investment of] $500 million to $1 billion is not going to get you up to 5 percent."

The source said Rosneft was likely to restrict the takeup of the offer.

Officials at BP and Rosneft declined to comment but the Financial Times reported Friday, quoting sources in the company, that executives at the British oil major were quite cool on the offer, mainly because they believe the flotation has been priced too aggressively.

A source close to Rosneft said the two firms had long sought to boost their partnership, but declined to say whether it could be done through the IPO.

Another source close to the matter said the impetus for any deal was likely to come from the Russian side as it seeks to win support for an IPO that some potential investors believe has been priced too ambitiously.

"It's hard to see why they [BP] would be interested," the source said, adding BP might be prepared to take a small stake in Rosneft if it thought this would win it advantages in Russia.

Rosneft has valued itself at $60 billion to $80 billion for the IPO, a premium to LUKoil.

Bankers have said the price is too high and Rosneft would need to bring it down if it wants the IPO to succeed after a slump on emerging markets.

But Rosneft argues it is growing faster than any other Russian firm and enjoys full support from the Kremlin. Interfax reported Friday that the IPO was already oversubscribed, but it did not say at which price.

Rosneft chief executive Sergei Bogdanchikov has hinted Chinese and Indian firms, such as CNPC and ONGC, are prepared to outbid portfolio investors and buy into Rosneft even at the current price in order to strengthen relations with Moscow.

But he also said no investor would be allowed to buy a stake of over 2 percent during the IPO.

Rosneft and BP have joint projects on the remote eastern island of Sakhalin, where they are exploring for oil and gas. Total investments in the projects are valued at $5 billion.

"I think it would make little sense for BP to buy a small stake in Rosneft," said Madina Butayeva of Raiffeisenbank."I think it would probably make more sense for them to focus on a joint venture with [state gas monopoly] Gazprom given the importance of the Kovykta project," she said.

(The Moscow Times 03.vii.06)

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