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Russia: Gazprom Seeking Money To Repay $7 Billion in Outstanding Loans

CEP20020909000242 (Internet) WWW-Text in Russian 06 Sep 02

[Report by Nikolay Anin: "Gazprom Having Money Problems" (Internet Version - WWW)]

[FBIS Translated Text]
    Gazprom financiers have notably stepped up their activity in recent times.   It seems that every day, there is another announcement about impending deals on attracting funds.   And this is no accident.   It is just that Gazprom, as usual, needs a lot of money.   Yet, at the present time, the company does not have a team which would be capable of attracting it quickly and inexpensively.

    Gazprom Chairman of the Board Aleksey Miller has encountered what might well be his most serious problem in all the time of his management of the concern.   In the nearest time, the company will have to pay out around $7 billion in repayment of prior loans.   And, it appears, Gazprom does not have that kind of money, since it supplies 70 percent of its products to the domestic market, in fact subsidizing consumers.

    Previously, great hopes had been pinned on a Eurobond loan.   But now, due to the shake-ups on the American and European stock markets, the issuance of such securities would be rather imprudent.   It is no accident, for example, that Alfa Bank rejected the plans to this effect.

    As yet, Gazprom has not officially rejected the issuance of Eurobonds.   Furthermore, Miller himself announced in recent days that the concern intends to perform the previously planned emission of 10-year Eurobonds for the sum of $750 million.   In his words, the "road show" in the USA will begin in October of 2002.   Aside from this, Gazprom is considering the possibility of additional placement of bonds in the sum of $400 million by the end of 2002.   Nevertheless, the company is not giving any additional information on the parameters of the emission, which has not yet officially been approved by the board of directors.

    At the same time, Miller is conducting intensive consultations with various bankers and financiers on the subject of direct crediting.

    Some of the negotiations have been crowned with success.   Thus, the French Societe Generale Bank has announced that the credit previously granted to Gazprom would be increased to $325 million.   (At that time, the discussion centered around $250 million).   The interest rate on the loan will comprise LIBOR + 3.65 percent, and the term of repayment will be 2008.

    The interest of the French is understandable.   The credit is secured by a long-term Gazprom contract on export of gas to the Czech Republic.   And, as the history of the Societe Generale credit to the ALROSA company (which never materialized) shows, French bankers like to credit Russian corporations for export proceeds.   We cannot rule out the possibility that there may be some offshore subsidiary of the French bank involved in the deal of Societe Generale with Gazprom, through which all of the financial operations associated with fulfillment of the Czech contract would pass.

    As we know, in the case with ALROSA, such a scheme did not pass due to the intervention of the federal authorities.   But Miller, judging by all, managed to insure himself.   Parallel with Societe Generale, he signed an agreement on strategic partnership with Mezhprombank.

    After losing out in the struggle over Slavneft, the financial flows of the Russian gas monopolist may become a fairly good consolation prize for Senator Sergey Pugachev, the influential and ambitious owner of Mezhprom.   It is characteristic that Pugachev participated in the meeting with Miller along with Mezhprombank Chairman of the Board Sergey Veremeyenko.

    Naturally, from a purely financial standpoint, Mezhprom is unable to do for Gazprom even a tiny bit of what Societe Generale can do.   But, having promised Pugachev access to the concern's accounts, Miller will automatically acquire an influential ally in the Kremlin.

    After all, despite the fact that the initiative to appoint Aleksey Miller to Gazprom emanated directly from the president, Putin has many reasons to be unhappy with his protégé today.   Putin's liberals, who have grouped themselves around First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksey Kudrin, are clearly not thrilled with Miller.   It is no accident that the mainstay bank for the concern, Gazprombank, is practically not participating in any way in the resolution of the concern's financial problems.   And Miller himself, in opting for an alliance with Pugachev, is clearly infringing upon Gazprombank's interests.   In this connection, it is appropriate to note that Gazprombank is headed up by one of the closest associates of Kudrin--Yuriy Lvov.

    Also indicative under the current conditions is the inaction of the CB [Central Bank], which, as we know, significantly helped Gazprom at the end of last year by organizing crediting of the concern through Sberbank and Vneshtorgbank.

    However, at that time the Bank of Russia was managed by Viktor Gerashchenko.   The current head of the CB, Sergey Ignatyev, is not capable of such maneuvers.   That is, unless he gets the go-ahead from Kudrin.   And he, judging by all, is keeping quiet.

    It is difficult for Miller to establish constructive interaction with the fiscal authorities (Minfin [Ministry of Finance] and the CB) also because of the replacement of the head financier of Gazprom.   Previously, this office was held by Vitaliy Savelyev, who is close to the Kudrin team.   But at the beginning of the summer, Boris Orlov was appointed to this post.   Prior to coming to the concern, he had worked at the Presidential Affairs Administration (UDP).

    By the way, considering the historically close ties of the UDP and Mezhprombank, it would be logical to presume that it was specifically the new financier of Gazprom that facilitated the rapprochement of Miller with Pugachev.

    Be that as it may, now Miller can count on the support of such figures close to Pugachev as Putin's spiritual advisor Archimandrite Tikhon and FSB [Federal Security Service] Deputy Director Yuriy Zaostrovtsev.   The only question is how this support will be transformed into real investments.

[Description of Source: (Internet) WWW-Text in Russian -- Website reportedly financed by Yukos oil company and often critical of the government.]

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