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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LUKoil Wins Bid for Serbian Fuel Retailer

LUKoil will spend 207 million euros ($226 million) to buy a majority stake in Serbia's Beopetrol, the company's first successful bid for a European oil company since 1999.

LUKoil will pay the Serbian government 117 million euros in cash for 79.5 percent of Beopetrol, Serbia's No. 2 fuel retailer, and will invest the rest later, the tender commission said. Beopetrol has 179 filling stations.

LUKoil beat out Hungary's Mol, which offered about 190 million euros in cash and investments.

LUKoil, which has 900 filling stations in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, is looking to boost profit margins by selling more refined products directly to car owners. After taking over Romanian and Bulgarian refiners in 1999, LUKoil failed in attempts to buy oil companies in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Lithuania, Montenegro and Poland.

"It's a psychologically important victory. The pause in LUKoil's foreign takeovers has become too long," said Valery Nesterov, an analyst at Troika Dialog in Moscow.

LUKoil and Budapest-based Mol are competing with Austria's OMV and Poland's PKN Orlen to expand in former communist countries in Eastern Europe, where economic growth is expected to accelerate when eight of the region's countries join the European Union next year.

The Russian company will have to import crude oil for refining in Serbia as the government will not let it sell oil products refined elsewhere in Serbia, said Aleksandar Vlahovic, Serbia's minister for state asset sales.

"The privatization of Beopetrol produced results that are above expectations considering the estimated value of capital that the agency had as a benchmark," Vlahovic said at a press conference Monday in Belgrade.

Moscow-based LUKoil last year lost its rank as Russia's No. 1 crude oil producer to Yukos. The company's sales exceed those of Yukos and LUKoil does more business outside the country than any Russian oil company.

"The cash payment looks reasonable," said Steven Dashevsky, head of research at Aton Capital Markets in Moscow. "Later, LUKoil will be investing in its own business. The Serbian fuel market is close to LUKoil's main non-Russian refinery in Bulgaria."

LUKoil spokesman Mikhail Mikhailov said the company will not comment until it receives official notification from Serbia.

Mol had sought to add Beopetrol's filling stations to extend its expansion in east Europe. The Hungarian company spent more than $1.1 billion in the past three years to buy refiners in Slovakia and Croatia and gas stations in Romania.

The company will now probably start building a network in Serbia, analysts said.

LUKoil has refineries in Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. It failed this year in bids for a majority stake in Rafineria Gdanska, Poland's No. 2 refiner, and for a minority stake in Hellenic Petroleum, Greece's largest refiner.

Serbia's tender commission will have one month to conclude exclusive talks with LUKoil.

The company pledged to invest 85 million euros in Beopetrol's business over the next five years and spend 5 million euros on social programs, the commission said. Mol offered 101 million euros in cash, 84 million euros in investment and 5 million euros in social programs. Serbia was advised by BNP Paribas, France's biggest lender by assets.