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Report: UES to Sell Mosenergo Early

Unified Energy Systems is planning to jump-start the stalled power sector reform by selling off its prize asset Mosenergo later this year, Vedomosti reported Thursday.

UES, the world's largest power company by capacity, is trying to speed up the reform by selling off units even before its planned restructuring is complete by the end of next year, the paper reported, citing a leaked UES draft plan.

The utility giant declined to comment on the document, saying it would be improper before a board meeting scheduled for April 26.

Analysts called the plan a "bold push" for the long delayed reform and suggested that Gazprom, which over the past year became the largest minority shareholder in Mosenergo, may well be behind it. The government has been dragging its heels on a key part of the reform -- the sale of power generation units to private investors.

Investors in UES assets -- including powerful businesses such as state-controlled Gazprom, Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element or Viktor Vekselberg's Integrated Energy Systems -- have impatiently been waiting for a sign on the exact mechanism and timing of the sales.

Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko has repeatedly said that the privatization of UES's six wholesale generation companies will not take place before 2006. No official timeline has been floated for UES's 14 territorial generation companies, such as Mosenergo.

According to the leaked UES plan, Mosenergo, the country's largest regional utility, is being readied for sale as soon as the third quarter of 2005. Two wholesale generation companies will also be auctioned later this year for cash and shares, Vedomosti reported, with the remaining generation companies likely to be sold off late next year.

Aton called the plan a "bold push" in a research note Thursday.

"If cash-plus-shares auctions do take place this year it would be very positive for UES stock and the reform process in general and may well trigger a fresh round of buying in UES shares, which already seem to have support from Gazprom," the brokerage said.

Gazprom, which through its subsidiary bank holds 10 percent in UES and over 30 percent in Mosenergo, would be the front-runner if the Moscow utility is privatized.

"Gazprom wants to control Mosenergo and has a large lobbying capacity. If it breaks down this wall it may make [sales of generation assets] easier in the future," said Andrei Zubkov, utilities analyst with Trust. "The alliance between [UES CEO Anatoly] Chubais and Gazprom is beneficial to this process."

Alexander Branis, head of Prosperity Capital Management, also welcomed the plan as a way of speeding up liberalization of the power market. "But at the same time the interests of minority shareholders have to be protected. Otherwise it loses its meaning," he said.

Some foreign investors have threatened to sue UES if they do not receive stakes in regional companies proportional to their holdings. Under the leaked plan, they could be squeezed out.

It was not clear Thursday whether the government would support the early sale of Mosenergo.

"We say that we would like to sell one or two wholesale thermal generation companies and two or three regional generation companies before the break-up of UES," said Maxim Bystrov, deputy head of the infrastructure reform department in the Economic Development and Trade Ministry.

On Thursday, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said that his ministry would submit a proposal on the sale of generation assets to the Cabinet, Interfax reported.

(The Moscow Times 15.iv.05)

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