Business in Brief

Fund Up 9.4% in December

The Stabilization Fund increased 9.4 percent to 3.85 trillion rubles ($157 billion) by the end of December, the Finance Ministry said in a statement Wednesday. It grew from 3.52 trillion rubles in the previous month, the ministry said.

The fund, which helps contain inflation by taking some petrodollars out of the country and investing them in foreign sovereign bonds with a high credit rating, held $66.85 billion, 50.95 billion euros and ?7.7 billion as of Wednesday, the statement said. (Bloomberg)

Foreign Debt Up to $43Bln

The country's foreign debt grew 38.7 percent from January to September 2007, from $310.6 billion to $430.9 billion, the Central Bank said, Interfax reported Wednesday.

The third quarter saw debt growth slow to 10 percent, or $39.2 billion, from the first quarter's growth of 12 percent, the Central Bank said, Interfax reported. (MT)

Customs Revenue $144Bln

The Federal Customs Service revenue rose 12 percent to a record 3.25 trillion rubles ($144 billion) last year, 2.1 percent more than expected, the service said, Interfax reported Wednesday.

The service contributed 354 billion rubles of that total to the federal budget in December, the news service said, without immediately giving more details. (Bloomberg)

IES Bids for TGK-6, TGK-7

Integrated Energy Systems, the power-industry holding company of billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, applied to the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to gain full control of electricity generators TGK-6 and TGK-7, the service said Wednesday.

Vekselberg, owner of the closely held IES holding, wants to be able to buy 100 percent of Nizhny Novgorod-based TGK-6 and Volga region-based TGK-7, the service said. It will take two months to rule on the matter. (Bloomberg)

UES Advances as Sale Begins

Unified Energy System rose the most in three weeks in Moscow trading after beginning a 101.9 billion ruble ($4.2 billion) share sale at above the current market price.

The firm gained 0.7 percent, the most since Dec. 17, after offering to sell common shares at 32.15 rubles each before its planned breakup into distribution and generation units in June. (Bloomberg)

Gazprombank Takes Loan

Gazprombank took a $105 million loan from ING Bank in September, the bank said in a report on its results for the first half of 2007, Interfax reported Wednesday.

The loan will be repaid by September 2008, Interfax reported. (MT)

Gazprom Neft Buys Field

Gazprom Neft bought an oil field Dec. 26 in northwestern Siberia, the company said in a statement Wednesday.

The Ravninnoye field holds some 53 million barrels of oil under Russian reserves standards, Gazprom Neft said. Russian reserves standards do not correspond to Western accounting methodology. (Bloomberg)

Gazprom's Azeri Interest

LONDON -- StatoilHydro, Norway's largest oil company and a partner in Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz natural gas development, said Gazprom was interested in buying gas from the project's second phase.

"We have had some discussions with Gazprom, and they have indicated some interest,'' StatoilHydro executive vice president Peter Mellbye said Wednesday. No sales agreement has been signed, he said. (Bloomberg)

LUKoil Buys Refueling Site

LUKoil acquired an airport refueling facility in the Volga River region as it expands in the air-fuel business, the company said Wednesday .

Kurumoch International Airport outside of Samara uses about 85,000 tons of kerosene every year, the company said. The terms of the purchase were not disclosed. (Bloomberg)

Russia, Algeria Aid Greece

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Greece made up for the loss of natural gas supplies from Turkey by taking more fuel from Russia and using reserves imported from Algeria, the operator of the Greek gas grid said Wednesday.

Turkey said it reduced shipments of Azeri gas to Greece to compensate for a domestic shortage caused by Iran's shutdown of a gas pipeline. (Bloomberg)

Query on Units in Cyprus

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Russia is asking Cyprus to give more information about Russian businesses based on the eastern Mediterranean island, the Cyprus Mail reported, citing unidentified people in the financial industry.

The Russian government on Jan. 1 put Cyprus on a list of countries failing to give sufficient information about units of Russian companies, threatening to revoke tax exemptions for these units, the newspaper said. (Bloomberg)

AvtoVAZ Sales Rise 6.2%

AvtoVAZ, the country's largest carmaker, said Wednesday that it sold a record 663,500 units in its domestic market in 2007, surpassing the previous year's total by 6.2 percent.

Vedomosti had earlier reported that the company's total sales in 2007, including exports, were 770,000 units. AvtoVAZ, controlled by Russian Technologies, did not disclose export sales in its statement. (Reuters)

Rail Link Secures Shipments

Silvinit, the country's largest potash maker, said Wednesday that a new rail link skirting a sinkhole at a flooded mine near the city of Berezniki will secure supply for two years.

"The risk that we will have to halt shipments is gone for a year or two," spokesman Anton Subbotin said. The six-kilometer bypass railroad opened Dec. 28. (Bloomberg)

RZD to Invest $16.6Bln

Russian Railways, or RZD, plans record investments this year to keep pace with surging cargo and passenger demand, chief executive Vladimir Yakunin said in a statement Wednesday.

Capital investment will rise to 405 billion rubles ($16.6 billion), 50 percent more than in 2007, Yakunin said. RZD expects to carry 4.3 percent more cargo this year than last year and 3 percent more passengers, the company said, without providing details. (Bloomberg)

Ports Volume Up 18%

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ports on the Baltic Sea increased the volume of cargo they handled last year by 18 percent as the government seeks to recover capacity lost after the Soviet Union's collapse.

The facilities in the Leningrad region handled 90.1 millions tons of freight last year, the regional government said in a statement Wednesday.

Primorsk, the country's biggest crude oil port, boosted exports 14 percent to 67.8 million tons of oil, and the Vysotsk terminal increased its cargo volumes 22 percent to 15.3 million. (Bloomberg)

Slot Machine Halls Closed

ST. PETERSBURG -- St. Petersburg's government closed the city's slot machine halls on Jan. 1 to comply with new anti-gambling legislation, Vedomosti reported.

Five hundred halls were closed and 50 converted into casinos at a cost of $200,000 each, the newspaper said. The casinos will be allowed to operate until 2009, Vedomosti reported.(Bloomberg)

Kraft to Open Coffee Plant

ST. PETERSBURG -- Kraft Foods is set to open a coffee plant in the Leningrad region in March 2008, said company representative Yulia Chubais, Interfax reported Wednesday.

Jacobs Monarch, Karte Noire and Maxim brands will be produced there, Interfax reported. The plant will produce an estimated 5,000 tons of products per year. (MT)

Metropol, SBI Joint Venture

Japan's SBI Holdings and the Metropol industrial-investment group is setting up a joint venture to invest in Russian companies not yet traded on the stock exchange, SBI said, Interfax reported Wednesday.

SBI Metropol Fund Management Company, co-owned by the Russian and Japanese partners, will be set up to manage the fund, which will start at $100 million, Interfax reported. (MT)

Exploration Talks Delayed

ROME -- Eni CEO Paolo Scaroni and counterparts from other oil companies will not meet Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev before Jan. 13 to resolve an oil exploration dispute, Italian news agency Ansa reported, without citing a source.

Nazarbayev will be in China on Jan. 11 when the meeting was supposed to have taken place, the report said. (Bloomberg)