Petrodollars: What do Russian Oil Companies Do in the Wake of Sanctions?

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Sanctions against Russia are moving closer to the country’s big oil companies. In this week’s Oilgram News column Petrodollars, Rosemary Griffin looks at the choices that companies such as Rosneft face.

EU sanctions introduced Friday limit some state-owned Russian oil companies’ access to European financing in a move that could drive Rosneft, Transneft and Gazprom Neft to look to alternative sources.

The US added to the Russian oil sector’s woes later in the day, by further restricting Rosneft’s access to US financing, as well as blocking its four biggest crude producers from accessing technology essential to Arctic, deepwater and shale oil technology.

In the short term, analysts see the latest measures as unlikely to significantly change the financial profile of the big three oil companies targeted, as previous sanctions had already seriously restricted Russian companies’ access to Western capital markets. But the measures have fuelled debate on how the three will maintain investment levels and meet refinancing obligations going forward.

Company representatives declined initial comment, but analysts’ see Rosneft, with its significant debt portfolio as the most exposed to the latest restrictions. Rosneft has been on something of a spending spree in the past two years, most significantly swallowing up what was Russia’s third largest crude producer TNK-BP in 2013, in a mega-deal which saw Rosneft hand over a combined total of over $30 billion to former shareholders AAR and BP.

Analysts estimate that Rosneft needs to refinance around $29 billion over 2014 and 2015. It has around $18 billion in cash to cover refinancing this year if necessary, and is expecting its cash flow to be boosted by pre-payments coming in next year.

Rosneft holds a key position in the Russian economy, with the government highly likely to intervene if it seems to be in any kind of trouble, something officials have confirmed in recent weeks.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that the government is looking into ways to support the company to maintain investment and production levels. Rosneft already asked for a massive Rb1.5 trillion (around $42 billion) injection from the state’s national welfare fund in mid-August, but whether the government will stretch quite so far, or promise to underpin all of the company’s ambitious capex plans, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, analysts estimate that Transneft needs to refinance around $3 billion of debt in 2014/2015. The company has around $10 billion on its books, and some analysts have pointed to its smooth repayment schedule of around $1.4-$1.5 billion/year over the next few years, as well as its relative flexibility to cut investment compared to most other majors, as key advantages in dealing with the latest restrictions. If it does get into trouble, Transneft is likely to follow Rosneft’s approach.

As the company responsible for crude and oil products shipments across Russia, it is a priority for the Russian government to build out infrastructure, particularly to boost crude movements to China. If the government balks at direct cash injections, it could also grant the company greater flexibility in imposing tariffs on its transportation services, although the government has attempted to limit state-owned companies’ tariffs in recent years.

The two state-owned giants could also look to Asian partners to meet any shortfall in financing. Rosneft has already offered Chinese partners a direct stake in its most promising greenfield project in East Siberia Vankor, which analysts see as a direct consequence of financial pressure from Western sanctions.

Asian investors are already present in many Russian projects and have said they are interested in opportunities arising from Russia’s shift in focus to Asian markets. They are likely to drive a hard bargain though, if Russian companies seem desperate to sell off stakes in their prize assets in return for financing.

For Gazprom Neft the situation is slightly different. Some analysts see the company as less exposed as its refinancing requirements in 2014/2015 are estimated to be the smallest of the three, at $2 billion. The company has an estimated $3 billion in cash. Furthermore Gazprom was planning to scale back its investment program from next year, initially by around 10% year on year in 2015.

There are indications that company is concerned about how sanctions could impact its financial operations, however. Gazprom took a significant hit from currency conversion rates this year, suffering a Rb5.3 billion (around $143 million) loss on its dollar-denominated debt in the first half, more than double equivalent losses in the same period of 2013. Some analysts believe restricted access to Western capital markets could drive the company’s bid to raise the proportion of its ruble-denominated debt and turn to domestic lenders.

In the summer it was also the first Russian oil company to raise the prospect of shifting supply contracts away from the dollar to other currencies, such as the ruble or the euro if the situation continues to worsen.


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