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The fate of the Yuganskneftegas, biggest Yukos production branch, is vague
The Russian Federal Property Fund and the Justice Ministry are deciding it between themselves. The business community is waiting for a federal resolution with bated breath. A Yugansk race has not been announced for now. The Fund expects it toward November's end. The Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein investment bank, appraised authorised by the Justice Ministry, evaluated the petroleum company within a US$14.7-17.3 billion bracket, fiscal claims considered. No information has been coming yet about the starting block and price. The mother company owes $3.73 billion on back taxes, and claims for 2002-03 may come up any day. At least, many dealers expect it. The Justice Ministry intends a 60 per cent discount, say its spokesmen. Some of them think the Yugansk block will go off for a song-just to cover Yukos arrears. The Russian top is not sure yet into whose hands the Yugansk will pass. It is pressured from all sides. The US Administration, for one, recently said the prospects for the company sold dirt-cheap alarmed it. The sale will destroy the reputation of Russian business terms in Western entrepreneurial eyes, warns Richard Boucher, State Department spokesman. As mouthpiece of US-based Yukos minority holders, the State Department voiced concern on many previous occasions, too. Russian rulers are determined to have it their own way, and shrug off formidable overseas support of minor holders. The Moody's transnational rating agency appears to share US officials' apprehensions, and has downgraded the Yukos from B1 to B2 for basic rating, and from B3 to B2 as emitter. Investors are duly pessimistic, and a majority of experts have no doubt Yukos assets will go off at token prices. Unlike media outlets, the American business community is not painting things too black, points out Yuri Ushakov, Russian Ambassador to the USA. "Realism has the upper hand in their opinions. Businessmen see that stronger fiscal discipline is what the whole matter is about," he remarked. Sergei Suverov of the Zenith brokerage does not think market despondency with the Yukos plight will last long-Russia has a huge amount of roubles, and strategic investors stay optimistic, what with the Russian opportunities and hopeful macroeconomic developments. Oleg Vyugin, Federal Finance Monitoring Service chief, is sure Russian assets will always find enough bidders and sellers. In fact, the Yukos hullabaloo has not quenched Western corporate interest in the Russian oil-and-gas complex-suffice it to mention the USA's ConocoPhillips, which recently bought a block of another Russian petroleum mammoth, the LUKoil. The drowning Yukos would not surrender. It has started paying electric arrears of the Tyumenenergo, another of its branches, and has appointed its own Yugansk appraiser, the J.P. Morgan bank. Few, however, think its price will greatly differ from what the DKW has announced. Rumours are rampant, meanwhile. Thus, Andrei Sharonov, Russia's Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade, said he expected a Gasprom affiliate to make a bid at the Yugansk auction. As for Mikhail Delyagin, Director of the Moscow-based research Institute of Globalisation Problems, he sees the Rosneft as the most likely winner. First, the option will allow to promptly set up a government petroleum mammoth. Second, the LUKoil, the Surgutneftegas and other companies close to the government are formally private holdings, and have their reputation to think of. Igor Sechin received a Rosneft appointment. The Gasprom appropriated the Rosneft soon afterwards to establish a new giant, the Gaspromneft. All that looks like preparations for a huge government petroleum company to appear, argues Delyagin. As far as he knows, certain government dignitaries have called to boost the government share from current 4.5 per cent of total Russian-extracted petroleum to a spectacular 20 per cent-which means that the Yugansk will, most probably, get into the government pocket. We shall see quite soon whether those forecasts are right or wrong. Whatever the auction terms will be, the world and this country have grown accustomed to the Yukos controversy, so the Yugansk deal, whatever its outcome, will be unlikely to hamper overseas capital inflow to Russia for long.
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