What the Russian papers say


MOSCOW, June 23 (RIA Novosti) Lukoil aims for 15% of Turkish market/ Gazprom expands into U.K./ Gazprom to earn $1bln in dividends from ex-Sibneft/ Gazprom reject Sakhalin field/ Russian pollsters on media sleaze

(RIA Novosti does not accept responsibility for the articles in the press)


LUKoil may corner 15% of Turkish market

LUKoil gasoline stations may soon spring up on the Turkish coast, as the company is planning to establish a retail network in the country, and also to buy a reloading terminal and, if possible, build an oil refinery. If these plans come off, Russia's largest oil company will be able to get 15% of the Turkish market of light petroleum products.
Turkey, like other Black Sea countries, is in LUKoil's zone of strategic interests, a source in the company's head office said. "We already have some serious assets in the region, and propose to beef them up," he said, adding that the company is currently exploring the Turkish market and has already decided to set up filling stations in the country. But no specific deals are negotiated so far, the source said.
"By expanding its refining operations, LUKoil is following a mainstream global trend," said Denis Borisov, an analyst with Solid brokerage. "All leading Western companies sell more refined products than they produce crude. ConocoPhillips, for one, produces 1.6 million barrels, processes 2.3 million barrels, and sells around 3 million barrels a day." This policy, Borisov said, yields lower profitability than in production-oriented companies such as Surgutneftegaz, but boasts higher earnings, which are the decisive factor in upping capitalization. In addition, such companies are less dependent on oil price fluctuations.
Borisov also said the Turkish market was logistically more appealing to LUKoil. With some sales infrastructure in that country under its belt, the company will be able to step up production at its refineries in Ukraine's Odessa and Bulgaria's Burgas, and ship their products to Turkey by sea. "LUKoil can thereby partly solve the problem of the congested Turkish straits," he said.


Russian gas giant Gazprom buys ticket into British market

Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled gas behemoth, has entered the British gas distribution market despite resistance from the very top. But instead of British market leader Centrica, worth $18 billion, Gazprom bought a private company that has only six people on its staff, effectively getting a back door into the lucrative market.
Gazprom Marketing and Trading (GMT) bought the gas supply business from Britain's Pennine Natural Gas Ltd. The acquisition seems insignificant compared to the monopoly's earlier plans to buy one of the largest players on the British retail market, Centrica. Recent reports say Pennine's annual sales amount to $537,000.
Gazprom has long had plans to reach European end consumers, but has run into resistance from Europe's political and business communities. Although it has been relatively easy to resolve such issues in Germany, Britain had remained impregnable until now.
Experts acknowledge that Pennine Natural Gas is tiny fraction of GMT. "This is a very small company," said Anton Rubtsov of Ray, Man & Gor Securities. "But it is just the beginning of Gazprom's business in Britain."
Alexander Razuvayev, an analyst at Megatrastoil, agreed, "Gazprom has in fact acquired a ticket into the market. I am positive that the monopoly has clear plans for how to develop its retail business in Britain."
Gazprom's acquisition should not be viewed as a serious alternative to its attempts to buy a leading player on the market, analysts said.
"The purchase of Pennine does not rule out plans related to Centrica," Rubtsov said. "However, the British authorities could stymie such a big transaction. So Gazprom acted correctly. A large deal could be delayed, but now Gazprom has got the opportunity to start selling gas in Britain."


Gazprom to get $1bln in dividends from ex-Sibneft

Gazprom Neft, formerly known as Sibneft, has decided to preserve the tradition of the times when it belonged to Roman Abramovich and continue paying huge dividends. It will pay 78.24% of profits to its new owner, Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom, while the rest will go to embattled oil company Yukos. The dividends will total 37.45 billion rubles ($1.39 billion).
Alexander Ryazanov, president of Gazprom Neft, said he was unhappy with the dividends, as they were significantly higher than the industry average. "None of the world's largest oil companies pays 100%, or 70% or even 50% of its net profit as dividends," he said.
Yet Gazprom Neft's management made no proposal to review the dividend policy, and the $1 billion Gazprom will get from the subsidiary is not too important for the gas giant, Ryazanov said. "I believe it would be sensible to leave more money inside the company, especially as we plan to develop Gazprom's oil fields," he said.
Experts said Ryazanov's dubious statement is a consequence of his ambivalent position.
"High dividends are a kind of historical tradition for Gazprom Neft," said Anatoly Khodorovsky, analysis director with Region Group. "As a top manager, Ryazanov is interested in the best possible balance between dividends and profit that stays with the company. Especially now, when Gazprom Neft badly needs investment."
However, Ryazanov is simultaneously deputy CEO of Gazprom, Gazprom Neft's main shareholder, which is interested in getting as large dividends as possible.
"Perhaps his dubious statement is caused by this contradiction," Khodorovsky said.
Analysts say that this is the last decision of the kind on the part of shareholders and Gazprom will not receive large dividends from its subsidiary ever again.
"Apparently, this year shareholders voted to pay 78% of net profit in dividends because Gazprom wants to recover at least 10% of the sum it paid for Gazprom Neft [$13 billion]," suggested Dmitry Mangilev, expert with the Prospekt brokerage.


Gazprom Neft rejects Sakhalin field

Gazprom, Russia's state-owned gas monopoly, is ready to give up its only field on Sakhalin Island in the country's Far East. It acquired the license to explore the Lopukhovsky shelf field jointly with Sibneft, Roman Abramovich's former oil company now renamed Gazprom Neft. The company's management intends to sell the field, but has reserved the right to reconsider the decision if Gazprom manages to join the Sakhalin 2 project. Industry experts say that Lopukhovsky will in any case remain an inefficient asset without many prospects.
Gazprom Neft president Alexander Ryazanov, also deputy CEO of Gazprom, said that geological exploration of the field was still ongoing, but that it was "too distant." The field is situated on the joint of Sakhalin 4 and 5, and has probable reserves estimated at 130 million tons of oil and 500 billion cu m of gas.
In 2003, TNK Sakhalin determined that it needed to invest about $60 million in exploration, but did not have time to invest all of it: in December 2005, Sibneft bought a 75% stake in the company, which was its first asset on the Sakhalin shelf, as it was for TNK-BP.
A spokesman for the British-Russian joint venture said the decision to sell the field was caused by poor exploration prospects. Apparently, Gazprom Neft wants to get rid of it for the same reason. Ryazanov, however, said yesterday that plans related to the field could change if Gazprom came to work on Sakhalin.
The gas giant is now in talks on joining Sakhalin 2 via an asset swap with the project's operator, Shell. In July 2005, the two companies signed a memorandum of understanding under which Gazprom will receive 25% plus one share in Sakhalin 2, and Shell a 50% stake in the Zapolyarnoye Neocomian field. The final agreement should have been signed by July 1, but recently the parties announced that it would be delayed until yearend.
Yet even if Gazprom joins Sakhalin 2, the development of Lopukhovsky remains doubtful. Experts question its potential: a source close to the Russian Federal Agency on Subsurface Use, said that the field did not have any prospects. "Perhaps, they will find some minor reserves, but their development in the extremely severe conditions of northern Sakhalin is unlikely to be profitable," he said.


Russians skeptical of media sleaze

Most Russians are chary of media sleaze about politicians and businessmen, a national pollster says.
The VTsIOM public opinion center polled more than a thousand people from all social groups, and concluded that 55% of them mistrust printed and electronic media's publications that contain compromising materials. As many as 69% said sleaze was used by rivals of state officials and businessmen for self-seeking reasons.
People accepted as true negative news carried by the media 10 years ago, but not now. Readers and TV audiences have become critical of dubious information, and have learned to detect it and determine its origins. However, this does not prevent them from getting useful information from such news. A group of 39% of respondents said sleaze was useful for determining groupings in the business elite.
The VTsIOM poll shows that Russians take an interest in domestic political scandals, but that only 12% paid any attention to the foreign media's information war against the Russian authorities.
As few as 2% of respondents have heard anything about the sleaze campaign being waged against IT and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman.
On the whole, the respondents said they opposed the use of sleaze against the authorities. Forty-five percent said they viewed this as attempts by business groups pursuing anti-state interests to put pressure on state officials.


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