Rosneft's Yukos Bid Could Foil Gazprom

Posted in Russia | 03-Apr-07 | Author: Miriam Elder| Source: Moscow Times

The Kremlin is reflected in a plaque at the entrance of the headquarters of Russian oil company Rosneft in Moscow.

Rosneft on Monday entered the race for Yukos gas assets to be sold off this week, filing a surprise bid that threatened to disrupt Gazprom's long-crafted plans to scoop up the assets for itself.

Rosneft, through a new wholly owned subsidiary called NeftTradeGroup, will bid Wednesday for a lot that includes Yukos' 20 percent stake in Gazprom Neft and two gas production units, ArcticGaz and Urengoil, spokesman Nikolai Manvelov said.

He declined to comment further on the bid, but Vedomosti cited an unidentified source close to Rosneft's board of directors as saying that if it won the auction, the company would resell the 20 percent stake to Gazprom.

Gazprom will not directly take part in the auction, but has linked up with other participants to make proxy bids, a source close to the auctions said.

Six companies have come forward with plans to bid in the auction, the source said. Applications closed Monday, and the list is most notable for the lack of any well-established firm.

In addition to NeftTradeGroup, the bidders included Unitex, Group Invest, Sever-Zapad Invest and gas trader Trans Nafta, Vedomosti reported Monday. EniNeftegaz, a subsidiary of Italy's Eni, will also bid in the auction, the newspaper said.

NeftTradeGroup is itself a daughter company of wholly owned Rosneft subsidiary RN-Trade.

A spokesman for court-appointed bankruptcy receiver Eduard Rebgun declined to comment Monday.

Independent gas producer Novatek and Energogaz, a consortium comprising ESN Group and Italy's Enel utility, have also said they are interested in bidding.

Spokeswomen for Eni and ESN Group declined to comment Monday on what prompted Eni's decision to go it alone.

Wednesday's lot includes 22 Yukos assets and carries a starting price of $5.57 billion. The second in a series of auctions to sell off the remains of Yukos, Wednesday's sale comes one week after Rosneft won the first auction for $7.6 billion.

Analysts were skeptical Monday that Rosneft would emerge victorious from Wednesday's auction.

"We would still very much expect, in one way or the other, for Gazprom to be the winner of this week's auction," said Clifford Kupchan, a senior analyst at New York-based risk consultancy Eurasia Group. "Given how tightly scripted these auctions have been, it's more likely that [Rosneft's participation] is there to give an appearance of competition or legitimacy where there really is none."

TNK-BP's participation in last week's auction prompted criticism.

Investment bank UBS had a different take, saying in a research note that Rosneft's bid could be used to inflate the price. "Given the fact that the lot is tailored for Gazprom, we believe a Gazprom-friendly entity is likely to be the winner of the auction," the note said.

Rosneft and Gazprom are expected to battle over Tomskneft and Samaraneftegaz, Yukos' largest remaining oil production units. Tomskneft goes on sale May 3.

LUKoil CEO Vagit Alekperov said Monday that his firm was interested in bidding in the May 3 auction.