Rosneft yesterday denied it is considering a takeover of the Russian half of the TNK-BP joint venture, as the state-owned oil group reported a 64 per cent jump in profits last year.
Last month Rosneft and BP agreed a ground-breaking $10bn (£6.2bn) tie-up, including a $5bn share swap and plans for a major exploration programme in Russia's Arctic South Kara Sea. But progress has been stalled after an injunction lodged by Alfa-Access-Renova (AAR) – BP's partner in TNK-BP – was upheld in court earlier this week.
AAR claims that the Rosneft deal violates the TNK-BP shareholder agreement specifying that any Russian activities by either party must be put before the joint company's board.
Both parties claim the Russian government has taken no interest in the matter. But the spat has led to speculation about the politics of Russia's oil industry and the involvement – or not – of senior Kremlin figures such as Igor Sechin, the Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of Rosneft, who was a key architect of the deal.
Rosneft's President Eduard Khudainatov yesterday took the opportunity to pour cold water on rumours that the group is planning to buy out AAR's 50 per cent stake in TNK-BP. "We are not in talks about buying AAR's stake or TNK-BP itself, of course not," Mr Khudainatov said.
Annual results published by Rosneft showed profits shooting up to $10.7bn on revenues up by 35 per cent to $63bn, thanks in part to rising oil prices. The company also saw a boost from oil production up by 6.4 per cent, with particularly strong gains from the Vankor and Verkhnechonsk fields in East Siberia and the Samaraneftegaz production unit in the south-eastern Samara region. Net debt is down by 26 per cent to $13.7bn, the company said.
Under the proposed BP deal, the British oil major will take a 9.5 per cent stake in Rosneft, which is 75 per cent-owned by the Russian state. In return, Rosneft will receive a 5 per cent slice of BP shares.
But nothing can happen pending a formal arbitration process to settle the falling out with TNK-BP.
BP claims that it was prevented from sharing details of the deal with the TNK-BP board in advance by the market sensitive nature of the share-swap element of the deal. And Bob Dudley, the BP chief executive, took a typically understated stance when the company published its annual results earlier in the week, stressing the continuing cordial relations between the two sides and forecasting an amicable, commercial outcome.
But not all make such a relaxed reading of the situation. And the four billionaire oligarchs who make up the AAR consortium – Mikhail Fridman, Victor Vekselberg, Leonard Blavatnik and German Khan – earlier in the week agreed that they will vote down a proposed $1.8bn special dividend at the TNK-BP board meeting later this month. Although there are 11 board members – four BP nominations and another three independents alongside four AAR representatives – the dividend vote is not open to the independent appointees.