Energy Firms Hit As Credit Dries Up

In the fallout from the global financial crisis, rising lending rates and a liquidity crunch are forcing some of the country's energy companies to reduce their projected investment spending.

Rates grew for corporate borrowers across the board. For oil and gas companies, the rates reached 11 percent to 13 percent, depending on the company, up from 7 percent to 8 percent.

Financing problems could hit even some of the largest companies in the industry. A spokesman for Gazprom Neft, the fifth-largest oil producer, on Tuesday confirmed a statement to Kommersant by the head of the company's investment department, Sergei Papenko, that its investment this year and next might drop by 10 percent to 20 percent.

Smaller companies also complained about a lack of funds. A spokesman for Itera confirmed comments by the company's deputy chief, Sergei Vorobyov, to Kommersant, who said the company would have to cut spending and "control investment plans" in 2009 and the first half of 2010 because of the crisis.

Sergei Stepanov, acting director of Trans Nafta, said a partner bank refused to loan money to develop two fields, Kommersant said. Chances to sell bonds evaporated as the crisis hit, he said. A secretary at the company said no one could confirm his quotes.

The country's biggest energy giants, Rosneft and Gazprom, have insisted that their spending plans would not be affected by the financial crisis.

Rosneft spokesman Nikolai Manvelov said Tuesday that the company's plans to increase investment remained unchanged despite a statement by a company source to Kommersant that the country's largest oil producer might put them under review.

Gazprom has indicated that it will remain invulnerable, promising more money for its development projects in the coming two years.

On Friday, Gazprom announced that its investment spending would reach new records because of the need to build pipelines in Yamal. Gazprom deputy chief executive Alexander Ananenkov said the spending would reach 1 trillion rubles ($39 billion) next year from this year's 850 billion. In 2010, the figure will grow to 1.3 trillion, he said. Investments will decline in 2011 but will still stay above 1 trillion rubles, he said.

A $4.2 billion loan that Gazprom has sought in order to buy a 20 percent stake in Gazprom Neft from Eni is on hold because of current market conditions, a banking source familiar with the deal said, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Gazprom, which controls 75 percent of Gazprom Neft, wants to wait until conditions improve before raising the money, Reuters cited the source as saying.

Gazprom has the option to buy the stake under a deal with Eni struck at the time of a state auction for Yukos assets in April 2007.

Vladimir Vedeneyev, an analyst at the Bank of Moscow, said it was mostly smaller companies at risk, especially if they are not transparent or are at an early stage of development, where investment exceeds returns.

Prospects for some other industries remained bleak Tuesday, with Fitch Ratings Agency predicting possible failures of midtier property developers if financing conditions continue to worsen.

The largest property developers are more likely to survive because they have strong ties with the country's top three banks, Sberbank, VTB and Gazprombank. But refinancing their existing short-term debt would come at a much higher cost, Fitch said.

A source in a property developer said rates almost doubled to at least 20 percent per year from 12 percent in August.

In another apparent effect of the liquidity crunch, petrochemical company Sibur halted talks to merge its tire assets with Russian-Dutch tire maker Amtel-Vredestein, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing a source close to the talks.

A Sibur spokesman declined to comment.