ExxonMobil set to invest in Yukos

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The Independent Online

ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil company, is expected to unveil a multi-billion dollar investment in Russia as the oil companies Yukos and Sibneft finalise their long-awaited merger today.

Analysts expect ExxonMobil will pay about $20bn for around 25 per cent of the newly merged company, which will be known as YukosSibneft, although there was speculation last night that the US oil giant could be considering taking a stake as high as 60 per cent.

Yukos and Sibneft, controlled respectively by the Russian oligarchs Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Roman Abramovich, are expected to announce their merger complete today. The terms of the deal, which is in effect a takeover by Yukos, values Sibneft at about $15bn.

Shares in Yukos rose 4 per cent in Moscow, while Sibneft stock gained 8 per cent as market speculation grew yesterday. The completion of the merger would pave the way for a foreign investor such as ExxonMobil to take a stake, although some analysts cautioned yesterday that the jump in share prices could just be due to the merger.

"The rumour that the market puts more value in is Yukos and Sibneft finalising their merger, which then gives a lot of people hope that any of the other rumours about a Western merger get that much more credibility," Nick Mokhoff, a trader at Brunswich UBS, said. "One has to happen before the other."

The largest investment in Russia's oil industry so far is by BP, which formed a 50:50 joint venture with Russia's third-largest oil company TNK. The British oil major paid almost $7bn for its stake, which was reportedly capped at 50 per cent by the Russian president.

Yukos and Exxon Mobil declined to comment on the speculation last night. However, the expected completion of the Yukos-Sibneft takeover co-incides with a visit by ExxonMobil's chief executive, Lee Raymond, to Moscow today.