Russians try to round up BP's backing for Rosneft float

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The Independent Online

Rosneft, the Russian company poised for a controversial $10bn (£5.6bn) fundraising in London, has held talks with the oil giant BP about investing in the flotation, according to financial and industry sources.

The two have held talks about an investment for "weeks", insiders said. There is talk that BP might buy $1bn of shares.

The main attraction for BP would be political advantage, analysts said, as the Kremlin has staked huge political capital in a successful flotation of Rosneft.

The Rosneft IPO, which is said to be struggling to attract investors on its current valuation of up to $80bn, would receive a major boost if it landed the participation of a famous Western oil company. There have also been suggestions that Rosneft has also approached Shell.

It is known that Rosneft is seeking strategic investors but until now it was expected that these would come from energy-hungry Asia companies, especially from India or China.

Rosneft has argued that its valuation is justified because it is growing faster than any other Russian company. Its chief executive Sergey Bogdanchikov has hinted that Chinese and Indian companies, such as CNPC and ONGC, are prepared to outbid financial investors and buy into Rosneft even at current prices to strengthen relations with Moscow. No investor will be allowed to buy a stake of more than 2 per cent during the IPO. For Rosneft, BP's participation would help create price tension. BP is in partnership with Rosneft in some of the Sakhalin projects in Russia's far east.

BP has made a $9bn investment in Russia, through its TNK-BP joint venture. It depends on TNK-BP for almost all its current production growth and about 10 per cent of group profits.

However, the Kremlin has repeatedly questioned the involvement of foreign companies in its oil and gas industry and has shut out overseas businesses from new fields. And the future stability of TNK-BP is not assured. Its Russian partners, led by the oligarch Mikhail Fridman, can sell out at the end of next year, and the venture also needs to find new reserves over the next few years.

After the IPO, Rosneft will still be majority-owned by the Russian state, which has turned it into Russia's oil champion, just as Gazprom is the leader in Russian gas.

If BP does invest in Rosneft, it would face embarrassing ethical questions, as the Russian company's major asset was taken from the private Russian group Yukos in a forced auction. Yukos's former head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is serving eight years in prison after what was regarded as a politically motivated tax case was brought against him.

TNK-BP has been unable to start developing the giant Kovykta gas field for years as Gazprom opposes its plans to supply gas to China because it would break its export monopoly.

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