Russia takes budget gamble by shelving Bashneft stake sale
August 19 2016 09:23 PM


A surprise delay to Russia’s privatisation of mid-sized oil producer Bashneft does not bode well for plans to sell a stake in energy giant Rosneft this year.
A failure of that deal too would deal a heavy blow to state finances.
Moscow needs privatisation revenue to help meet its targets for a 2016 budget based on optimistic oil price projections.
The alternatives are problematic: a sovereign wealth fund is already dwindling, domestic borrowing costs remain high and the Bashneft episode is unlikely to impress potential foreign lenders.
Amid signs of feuding among powerful businessmen and officials, the government postponed Bashneft’s privatisation this week, saying that selling a 19.5% stake in Rosneft — the country’s largest oil producer — was now the priority.
The reaction was negative.”We do not understand the reasons for the delay, but we would like to emphasise that a cancellation of the deal at the last minute does not have the best impact on Russia’s investment climate,” economists at Aton investment house wrote in a note.
This year’s budget assumes that a Rosneft sale will raise around 700bn roubles ($11bn). But there is a risk it might not happen, given that anxiety about relinquishing state control over strategic assets — and the interests of oligarchs — often win over prudent fiscal measures in Russia.
Earlier this month, Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev warned that there may not be enough time to prepare Rosneft’s privatisation this year.
A government source said on Thursday that the risk of shelving it until next year still exists.
The government said on Wednesday that the Bashneft sale may still take place this year.
But without the Rosneft revenue, and the roughly 300bn roubles that could come from Bashneft, the state could struggle to keep the budget deficit to its target of 3.0% of gross domestic product.
“If Rosneft gets delayed to 2017 then it’s a big negative,” Oleg Kouzmin, a Russia economist at Renaissance Capital, said.
This year’s budget assumes an oil price of $50 a barrel, but world prices have been below this level for most of the time since January.
A Bashneft sale, while not included in the budget, would have helped to plug the gap.
The same would be the case with sales of stakes in Russia’s second-largest bank VTB and diamond miner Alrosa.
So far, only the Alrosa sale has happened, bringing in about $814mn.
The lost revenue from Bashneft could be somewhat offset by higher dividend payouts from state-controlled companies.
The business daily Vedomosti reported government officials have been talking about enforcing an interim dividend payout from several companies, such as Russian Railways, pipeline operator Transneft and shipping line Sovcomflot.
But that would bring in only about 21bn roubles, Vedomosti said.
At the same time, the government may have to fund a possible rise in pensions before parliamentary elections in the autumn, putting a strain on the budget This increase to compensate for high inflation, which would be the second this year, would be made through a one-time payment of 137bn roubles.
“We view it as a litmus test for previous cabinet calls for a tighter budget,” said Natalia Orlova at Alfa Bank.
Russia can also raise borrowing, but that might be tricky as yields on 10-year rouble treasury bonds are around 8.3%.
“It’s difficult to increase domestic borrowing so rapidly, and there is an understanding that maybe yields are still a little bit high for them to borrow in greater amounts,” Kouzmin said.
The Bashneft postponement and uncertainty over the Rosneft sale substantially increases the chances of more foreign borrowing this year, the source in the government told Reuters.
Konstantin Vyshkovsky, head of the finance ministry’s debt department, told Reuters it would decide in the autumn whether to top up a sovereign Eurobond issue with the remaining $1.25bn that could be raised.

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