23 Jun 2009 12:13

Interros interested in RUSAL's Norilsk stake if this put up for sale

MOSCOW. June 23 (Interfax) - Vladimir Potanin's Interros is happy with the current equity distribution at MMC Norilsk Nickel but would be prepared to buy the stake owned by Oleg Deripaska's United Company RUSAL (UC RUSAL) if this is put up for sale, a source at Interros told Interfax.

"The current status quo suits us fine, and we're not keen to see any changes in the Norilsk shareholder set-up. But we've always said we're interested in the stake that used to belong to Mikhail Prokhorov [and is now owned by RUSAL], and this is still the case,' the source said.

RUSAL owns 25% plus two shares and Potanin controls 25% plus one share in Norilsk, according to a filing that the businessman himself made with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. RUSAL's stake is held by Vnesheconombank (VEB) as collateral for a $4.5 billion loan that the aluminum giant took out last autumn to refinance an earlier loan from foreign banks that RUSAL used to find the purchase of the Norilsk stake from Prokhorov.

Russia's Vedomosti and Kommersant newspapers Tuesday said Potanin was interested in RUSAL's stake in Norilsk. Most of the Interros stake has also been pledged as loan security, with VTB , and the newspapers did not say how much Interros might be prepared to pay for RUSAL's stake. Interros itself was unavailable for comment.

A source close to Interros told Vedomosti that Potanin was prepared to involve partners - Uralkali owner Dmitry Rybolovlev or Siberian Coal and Energy Company's (SUEK) Andrei Melnichenko and Sergei Popov - in the potential deal to buy RUSAL's stake. If it does, Interros would not own more than 30% of Norilsk: Uralkali and SUEK would buy 20% of Norilsk between them in this scenario, and Potanin would not have to offer to buy minority shareholders out.

Uralkali, which is Russia's biggest potash miner, figured in an earlier plan aired by Potanin and Deripaska to consolidate the Russian mining and metals industry involving Norilsk, Evraz Group, Mechel and the state. The consensus on the market at the time was that this was a "poison pill", intended to derail another option that Alisher Usmanov, the Metalloinvest owner, put on the table, and it has not yet been discussed in detail.

RUSAL, which is negotiating the rescheduling of debt to VEB among other creditors, does not plan to part with its shares in Norilsk. "The acquisition of the shares in Norilsk Nickel is a strategic investment for us, and we are not currently thinking about putting the shares up for sale," RUSAL spokeswoman Vera Kurochkina told Interfax. Kurochkina said Interros had not approached RUSAL about a possible deal.

VEB's supervisory board extended its loan repayment term for RUSAL by a year at the beginning of June until the autumn of 2010.

Viktor Vekselberg, RUSAL's board chairman, said in an interview with Vedomosti at the end of April that RUSAL was not currently thinking about parting with its shares in Norilsk Nickel. "There are interested buyers out there," he said. Vladimir Potanin, who also holds a blocking stake in Norilsk, is just one of them. "There's a lot of interest. People still have faith in Norilsk Nickel," Vekselberg said.

If RUSAL does decide to sell the Norilsk stake it won't be for less than it paid. "Everybody knows how much we paid and we don't want to sell for less. And we won't have to, you'll see," Vekselberg said.

In addition, Sergei Chemezov, head of the state Russian Technologies (Rostekhnologii) corporation, told Vedomosti at the end of May that Rostekhnologii corporation wants to obtain the shares in Norilsk Nickel that the mining and smelting giant's core owners have pledged as loan collateral with VEB and VTB.

"I'll be frank: this asset [the pledged shareholdings] interests us. We already have metallurgical assets, for example the RT-Metallurgy holding," Chemezov told the paper.

Chemezov re-iterated his interest in creating a global mining company around Norilsk Nickel and Metalloinvest, whose core owner Alisher Usmanov is also a minority shareholder in Norilsk Nickel.

Usmanov reached an agreement on strategic partnership with Interros in 2008 and became a minority shareholder in Norilsk Nickel, but as time passed his views on how the company should go forward differed with those of Potanin.

A blocking stake in Norilsk currently has a market value of approximately $4 billion.