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Half of Rosneft IPO Goes to 4 Buyers

STRELNA, Leningrad Region -- Three foreign oil companies and a mystery buyer snapped up 49 percent of Rosneft's $10.4 billion initial public offering Friday, giving the state oil firm an implied value of nearly $80 billion.

Rosneft president Sergei Bogdanchikov on Sunday hailed the IPO as the biggest-ever by an energy major, and insisted the price reflected the company's real market value.

He confirmed that BP, Malaysia's Petronas and China's CNPC had bought $2.6 billion in shares, but refused to be drawn on the identity of the fourth big buyer.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, Bogdanchikov told a packed news conference that Rosneft would be run in the interests of all shareholders and not just the state's, now that it had sold about 13 percent of its shares in London and Moscow.

Rosneft "is a state company to some extent, but it is also a public company," Bogdanchikov said. "We have to maximize profit to pay dividends ... and maximize the capitalization of our company. This is in the interest of all shareholders and not just the state's."

It seemed like a fitting occasion to celebrate Rosneft's remarkable transformation into a public company with an implied market capitalization of nearly $80 billion, the biggest in Russia after Gazprom.

Until it took over Yukos' main production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, for a knockdown price of $9.4 billion less than 18 months ago, Rosneft was a mid-ranking oil firm cobbled together out of leftover state oil assets worth -- according to many valuations -- just $6 billion. Since that purchase, the Kremlin has thrown its weight behind Rosneft as the country's oil champion.

But as Bogdanchikov touted his success, the elements appeared to conspire against him as torrential rain hammered the press tent and reporters strained to hear his words above thunder and lightning and the flapping canvas.

Rosneft still faces an 11th-hour legal challenge from Yukos that could derail the company's plans for a market debut on the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

London's High Court is due to decide Monday whether to hear Yukos' claim for a temporary injunction against the LSE listing on the grounds that it would facilitate the sale of stolen property. When a judge said during preliminary hearings Friday that he wanted time to consider what he called "important issues," Rosneft's lawyer claimed a delay would be "devastating" for Rosneft.

Rosneft has planned a lavish party at the LSE for Wednesday.

Yukos claims Rosneft's takeover of Yugansk was expropriation. It has filed a slew of lawsuits around the world.

Several fund managers and investors have accused Rosneft of coercing investors into buying shares at an inflated price during the IPO as a way to curry favor with the Kremlin and gain access to future investment projects.

With the stock priced at $7.55 per share, near the $7.85 top price Rosneft had asked for, at least three of the biggest foreign portfolio investors in Russia spurned the sale because they saw it as overpriced and too risky legally.

Rosneft said Friday that just four investors had bought 49 percent of the entire offering. On Sunday, Bogdanchikov revealed that BP had paid $1 billion, Malaysia's Petronas $1.1 billion and China's CNPC $500 million. He said he could not name the fourth buyer, but said state-owned Gazprombank and others had made substantial bids.

One fund manager, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the sale of half the offering to four investors was a sign that the Kremlin had enlisted them due to a lack of investor demand.

"This was a major extortion exercise," the fund manager said. "They leant on investors in true KGB fashion ... to make sure the offering was successful. You have to be a real idiot to buy something trading on a premium to LUKoil on a price-per-earnings basis when you don't even know if it will start trading on Wednesday," he added, referring to the possibility of a court injunction in London.

"This has been sold to people who've been made an offer they can't refuse," agreed Ian Hague, co-manager at New York-based Firebird Capital Management, which has $2.1 billion in Russian stocks under management. "They are trying to create the impression by using captive demand that this is a very highly valued set of assets.

"This is not a real price because it hasn't been set by the market."

Foreign institutional investors bought only 36 percent of the offering, while Russian investors bought 39 percent, Rosneft said Friday. Russian retail investors bought 4 percent of the shares.

"The demand is significantly less than it would have been had Yugansk not been acquired the way it had," Hague said. The number of foreign institutional investors is "very low for a public offering," he said. "Clearly, this is more of a private placement."

Bogdanchikov rejected those claims Sunday. He said foreign portfolio investors had placed bids for more than $6 billion of shares -- far more than they had eventually been granted because the issue was oversubscribed.

Even without the strategic investors "we would still have collected enough money," Bogdanchikov said. He also rejected suggestions that Rosneft was now overvalued, at more than LUKoil.

"We have very good results," Bogdanchikov said. "What the market valued us at is how much we're worth."

Some investors said foreign oil majors like BP were unlikely to see upside on the price of their shares because they were so highly priced from the get-go.

"BP would not have done this if there wasn't some upside associated with it," Hague said. "But this upside is probably not going to be in the share price."

BP spokesman Robert Wine confirmed that the British oil major saw its participation in the offering as an exercise in "relationship building" with the Russian authorities as well as a commercial investment. "We think it's a good strategic investment for our position in Russia and our relationship with the Russian oil industry and with the Russian authorities," he said.

BP's Russian venture, TNK-BP, has been under fire. Its faces a back tax bill of $2 billion and its flagship venture, the Kovykta gas field, has been stalled for years due to opposition from Gazprom.

CNPC, meanwhile, is believed to be eager to win greater access to Russian oil fields, but ended up with just half of BP's allocation. The Financial Times on Saturday cited a person close to the deal as saying CNPC had offered up to $3 billion in the Rosneft offering, but had angered the Kremlin by asking for too much in return. Malaysia's Petronas was allocated $1.1 billion worth of shares.

James Fenkner, managing director of Red Star Asset Management, said portfolio investors buying the stock were essentially betting on the Kremlin's continuing dominance of the oil sector -- and its ability to chew up more.

"This is an option on asset redistribution in its crudest form," Fenkner said. "The assets will be redistributed by the state, and the state is Rosneft. It is a bit expensive versus traditional valuation matrices. The lesson of the last few years is: Don't bet against the Kremlin."

Bogdanchikov said Sunday his company could swallow more of Yukos' assets. Rosneft could buy Yukos' refining assets should they be put up for sale, he said. Rosneft instigated bankruptcy proceedings against the stricken oil major earlier this year.

He gave short shrift to Yukos' filing to thwart Rosneft's listing on the LSE. "We have owned Yuganskneftegaz for 1 1/2 years. During that time, the former owners ... have filed lawsuits against us in the U.S., Britain ... and the Netherlands, and every time they have lost the lawsuit," he said. "I think this is enough to predict what will happen this time."

Yukos shareholders' suit against Rosneft in the United States has yet to be heard. Rosneft lost its suit against Yukos in the Netherlands.

A senior Rosneft ally predicted Yukos had little chance of winning in London. "All this maneuvering merely brings a smile to your face," said Hans JЪrg Rudloff, chairman of Barclays Capital, an independent director on Rosneft's board and a long-time ally of Bogdanchikov. "If you really think you're going to win, you don't wait till the eve of the IPO to file. They are just doing this to get the maximum attention."

He called Rosneft's move to go public "a huge step forward."

"For Bogdanchikov, this is extremely important," he said. "Rosneft was totally restructured over the last 12 months."


(The Moscow Times 17.vii.06)

 
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