ROSNEFT SOLD. WHO'LL BUY?
Igor Sechin Says Russia Should Maintain Control of Oil Company.
OAO Rosneft Chief Executive Igor Sechin said he supports the Russian government's plan to sell a 19.5% stake in the oil giant to the highest bidder, as long as the state retains control.
Speaking at the International Investment Forum on Saturday, Mr. Sechin said he sees "no obstacles to prevent the sale."
On Monday, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said the country may sell a stake in Rosneft earlier than planned.
Russia, which owns 69.5% of the oil producer, had planned to sell the stake in 2016. The government has pledged to reduce its holding to just above 50%.
Although supporting privatization in principle, government officials have said repeatedly that Russia has no pressing need from a budgetary point of view to sell stakes in companies, and that stakes should be sold only when the market conditions are right.
The Russian stock market has fallen sharply in the past months amid a standoff with the West over the annexation of Crimea, reducing the value of Rosneft.
Mr. Sechin indicated an early sale may be possible despite the weak market.
"We can wait for a window of opportunity, or create this window," he said.
He avoided a question on whether Chinese companies are planning to buy the stake.
"It's premature to define who will buy; who pays more will be the buyer," he said.
Mr. Sechin noted that a reduction of the state's ownership in Rosneft below 50% would be "counterproductive" as it would reduce the company's access to untapped resources in the Russian Arctic shelf. Only companies controlled by the state are permitted to explore large oil and gas fields in Russia.
Separately, Mr. Sechin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin and who is targeted by U.S. sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea, said the deal to buy a petroleum-trading unit from Morgan Stanley MS +0.33% is on schedule,
"This transaction is proceeding on schedule, we are working closely with the regulators to obtain the relevant permits," Mr. Sechin said. "So far everything is going fine."
Rosneft and BP PLC, which owns a 19.75% stake in the company, also said Saturday they have signed an agreement to jointly explore for hard-to-recover oil in Russia—the first major deal for Rosneft with a Western company since the sanctions were imposed.
Rosneft also said on Saturday it is negotiating the purchase of Norwegian services company North Atlantic Drilling.
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