Russian daily Kommersant reports that the Russian Government asked its representatives in 63 state-owned companies to call respective shareholders’ assemblies until December 20 and vote for the Government’s program to sell non-core assets in those companies. The 63 entities can be found on the list of state-owned companies and their subsidiaries published in January 2003 (http://www.rg.ru/bussines/docum/72.shtm, with minor subsequent amendments). The only exceptions to this rule will be made in relation to Gazprom and other companies on the list that are scheduled for privatization. Reactions from the companies are mixed: 27 of them claim that they are already implementing such programs; 12 companies stated that they do not own any such assets; three companies claimed that there is no need for a special program to get rid of the non-core assets; eight stated that they are currently unable to determine which assets are not essential to their business.

The decision is a temporary solution to what is essentialy a budget issue – as the central government refuses to increase guarantees in favor of state-owned companies and is equally reluctant to allow respective tarrif hikes, both the Government and the management of the companies agreed to raise cash by selling non-core assets before either of the two less favorable options is considered. The fight for government guarantees lasted since October, with the Ministry of Finance ready to approve guarantees in the amount 110.5 billion roubles (USD 3.5 billion), while the Ministry of Economy asked for no less than 334 billion roubles (USD 10.5 billion) and the extension of their tenure from 20 to 30 years. It seems that the company most interested to become a beneficiary of government guarantees is Russian Railways, as it plans to float 200 billion roubles (USD 6.3 billion) worth of debt in 2013 to finance infrastructure projects. The company already knows where it will place the debt: it would like to see the Russian Pension Fund as the lender, which is tightly related to the pending pension reform – the statute of the Pension Fund needs to be changed in order to allow the Fund to purchase 60-70 percent of an individual debt flotation (it can currently buy up to 30 percent), which could be increased to 100 percent in case the debt in question is backed by a Government guarantee.

The Ministry of Economy insists that the proposed measure to sell non-core assets include Gazprom and Rosneft, although the Government does not have a majority stake in the two companies. However, Kommersant expects that both companies will probably be spared of this requirement – especially Rosneft, which is likely to be scheduled for privatization in 2013. That said, Gazprom published 13 tenders for sale of non-core assets, ranging from an unfinished yacht in Astrakhan shipyard to a fiber optic network in Moscow.

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