Business in Brief

Fitch Lowers Raft of Ratings



Fitch Ratings agency on Wednesday lowered the ratings and forecasts for a host of Russian companies and cities in concert with the downgrade of the country's sovereign debt rating, the agency said Wednesday.

Fitch downgraded the issuer default ratings of 14 banks, including UniCredit Bank, Absolut Bank, Raiffeisenbank, Orgresbank, Santander Consumer Bank, Citibank and Rosbank, as well as those of four European banking units of VTB and three leasing companies.

The agency also downgraded the long-term debt rating of the Moscow and St. Petersburg to BBB from BBB+.

Russian Railways, Sukhoi, RusHydro and Yakutskenergo saw their issuer default rating lowered and forecast changed to negative, while the forecast for Gazprom and Rosneft was downgraded to negative. (MT)




Bolivia to Visit for Gas Deal



Bolivian Deputy Energy Minister William Donaire said Wednesday that President Evo Morales is heading to Moscow on Feb. 16 to sign a $3 billion deal with Gazprom.

A Russian delegation is in Bolivia finishing a memorandum of understanding for exploration and production.

Donaire said Wednesday that the pact covers development of Bolivia's natural gas industry and creation of a regional gas institute. (AP)




Uralkali's $86M Fine?



Uralkali said the government agency probing a 2006 flood at one of its mines found that the incident was caused by "a combination of geological and technical factors," the company said Wednesday.

Damages of more than 3.1 billion rubles ($86 million) may be owed to the state and rail operator Russian Railways, it said.

A second investigation concluded that "if the subsoil user had been systematically conducting geological surveys, the abnormal structure of the water-resistant section in the area of the accident" might have been found earlier, Uralkali said, citing a state report sent to the company. (Bloomberg)




Gref Tipped for LUKoil



German Gref, chairman of Sberbank, is one of the candidates to join the board of directors of private oil major LUKoil, the company said Wednesday.

LUKoil plans to approve a new board at its annual general shareholders' meeting, the date for which has yet to be set. (Reuters)




Agriculture Tariffs Approved



The government approved a raft of tariffs on agricultural products on Wednesday, its press service said.

The government levied a 5 percent duty on soy meal, a 15 percent duty on butter and other dairy fats and a 20 percent duty on sweetened or condensed milk and cream.

The tariffs are to be active for a period of nine months. (MT)




Rosinter Sees Revenue Jump



Rosinter Restaurants Holding announced Wednesday that it saw revenue increase by 28 percent in 2008 and its network grow by 45.3 percent.

Revenue increased to $343.4 million from $268.2 million in 2007, the company said in a statement. Rosinter, which also owns the Russian franchising rights to T.G.I. Friday's, opened 105 new stores last year, including 41 locations in the fourth quarter.

While same-store sales increased 13.3 percent in local currency and 17.2 percent in dollars for the year, the company began to exhibit a slowdown in fourth quarter with the ruble's depreciation. (MT)




KamAZ to Export More



KamAZ plans to export 40 percent of production this month to gain from the ruble's decline against the euro and dollar, KamAZ CEO Sergei Kogogin said Wednesday, adding that KamAZ usually exports about 25 percent.

Kogogin also said Russia's truck market may shrink as much as 70 percent as used vehicles become more popular among customers amid the economic turmoil.

The truck maker is also seeking a loan of "no more than" 12 billion rubles ($330 million) from Vneshekonombank, Kogogin said. (Bloomberg)




Electricity Output Declines



Russia's electricity production declined 7.3 percent in January to 94.6 billion kilowatt hours, state-run Systems Operator said Wednesday.

The biggest drop was registered at hydropower stations and thermal power plants, it said. (Bloomberg)




Raspadskaya at 30%



Raspadskaya is working at 30 percent of capacity, CEO Gennady Kozovoy said Wednesday, Interfax reported.

The miner operated at 17 percent of capacity in November, its worst month, and at 25 percent in December. Raspadskaya expects to continue working at 30 percent of capacity for all of the first quarter.

The company is losing 250 million rubles ($6.9 million) a month because of the output drop, the news agency said. Raspadskaya is accepting partial payments from steelmakers in the form of metal, Interfax reported. (Bloomberg)




Air Passengers Down 10%



The number of airline passengers in Russia declined in January by about 10 percent, Vladimir Chertok, the deputy head of the Federal Air Transportation Agency, said Wednesday, RIA-Novosti reported.

The agency foresees an average 10 percent drop in passengers throughout the year, Chertok said, citing the economic situation. (MT)




Russia Blocks More Birds



Russia is halting poultry shipments from three U.S. warehouses, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.

One facility, Cloverleaf Cold Storage, was also banned from shipping beef to Russia, the USDA said. Exports from the plants will not be allowed as of Feb. 10. (Bloomberg)




For the Record



VimpelCom's board unanimously recommended withholding a dividend for 2008 as the cell phone operator seeks to conserve cash amid the global economic crisis. (Bloomberg)

Vneshekonombank plans to sell at least $5 billion of bonds denominated in foreign currency, CEO Vladimir Dmitriyev said Wednesday, Interfax reported. (Bloomberg)

Consumer prices advanced 0.3 percent in the week through Feb. 2, the State Statistics Service said Wednesday. (Bloomberg)