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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Business in Brief

Duma Dilutes Beer Ban

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- In a major victory for breweries, the State Duma is likely to amend its beer bill to allow adults to drink the beverage on the street, a document obtained by journalists showed.

President Vladimir Putin vetoed the bill last month and sent the draft back to parliament.

The original bill sought to ban beer sales on public transportation and in cultural and sports buildings, as well as near schools. It also forbade drinking beer on the street and in stadiums, parks and on public transportation. But on Wednesday, the Duma is likely to approve a bill that would only ban underage drinkers from imbibing on the street.

The other prohibitions will stay intact, but it will be a major breakthrough for the local beer industry, as about one-third of beer in Russia is bought for immediate consumption.

Putin-Bush Stamp

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) -- A special stamp will be issued in Slovakia for the upcoming summit of U.S. President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, officials said Tuesday.

The Slovak Post will issue a special edition of 100,000 stamps that will go on sale from Feb. 24, when the summit of the two presidents is to take place here, Foreign Ministry spokesman Juraj Tomaga told reporters.

The stamp will sell for 25 koruna (83 cents). It will feature the summit's logo, which includes the Bratislava Castle, the likely venue.

$2,525 Mobile Number

MOSCOW (Prime-Tass) -- Russia's third-largest mobile operator MegaFon sold an "exclusive" telephone number, 585-8585, for $2,525, Moscow-based cellular provider Sonic Duo said in a statement Tuesday.

Sonic Duo operates under the MegaFon brand name.

MegaFon said it auctioned 10 "exclusive," easily remembered numbers in the Moscow Licensed Area on Monday.

No other details were available.

$106Bln Trade Surplus

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The foreign trade surplus rose to $105.9 billion in 2004 from $76.3 billion in the same period a year ago, the Federal Customs Service said Tuesday.

Gazprom Middleman

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) --Gazprom's new vehicle to sell Turkmen gas to Ukraine hired a former executive of an old intermediary, Eural Trans Gas, that Gazprom decided to eliminate from transactions after shareholders' criticism, Vedomosti reported Tuesday.

Oleg Palchikov, Eural's former Moscow representative, was named as co-director at RosUkrEnergo AG, the newspaper said, citing Gazprom deputy CEO Alexander Ryazanov. Gazprom set up Swiss-based RosUkrEnergo with Raiffeisen Zentralbank Osterreich.

Hungarian-registered Eural had been using Gazprom's pipes to ship the fuel to Ukraine. Hermitage Capital Management, the biggest Moscow-based investment fund, has said Gazprom missed out on $767 million in earnings last year by renting out pipeline capacity to Eural.

Ministry Pushes PSAs

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Russia, the world's biggest natural gas producer, may boost output of the fuel 21 percent in the next 10 years, provided the country persuades companies such as BP and ExxonMobil to invest in new Arctic and Siberian fields, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry said.

Starting production at the Kovykta and Shtokman fields would allow Russian output to rise to between 740 billion cubic meters and 765 bcm per year by 2015, from last year's 634 bcm, the ministry said on its web site.

"To bring these large projects to fruition, the government will have to support them by granting production-sharing agreements, and to help create a favorable investment climate," the ministry said in an economic forecast.

State-controlled Gazprom is in talks with companies such as BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon on plans to invest some $22 billion to extract gas from Kovykta and Shtokman, as well as on rights to sell the fuel.

Sberbank Nets $1.6Bln

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Sberbank, the country's largest savings bank, raised 2004 profit 24 percent, Interfax reported Tuesday, citing the bank.

Profit rose to 44.2 billion rubles ($1.57 billion) in 2004, compared with 33.8 billion rubles in 2003, the news service said. Sberbank's pretax profit gained to 52.6 billion rubles last year, from 39.5 billion rubles, Interfax said.

Yevraz Nets $1.1Bln

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) --Yevrazholding Group, Russia's largest steelmaker, said it expects 2004 profit more than tripled, to 31.3 billion rubles ($1.1 billion), as higher steel prices more than made up for a drop in output caused by maintenance.

Net income likely rose to 31.3 billion rubles and revenue more than doubled to 147.5 billion rubles, the company said in a statement. Yevraz, which did not provide 2003 figures, said it would make a final 2004 earnings statement in early April.

Nuclear Output Down

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Nuclear energy plants cut production 5.6 percent in January, Interfax reported, citing a statement from state-run Rosenergoatom.

Nuclear output fell to 13.6 billion kilowatt-hours, the news service said. Rosenergoatom operates 10 nuclear power plants, Interfax reported.

Unified Energy Systems, Russia's national power utility, increased electricity production 2.5 percent last year to 652 billion kilowatt-hours as economic growth boosted consumer demand and industrial production. UES does not operate any nuclear plants.

UES Lawsuit Insurance

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Unified Energy Systems, Russia's national power utility, plans to insure its board members and top management against lawsuits filed by minority shareholders, UES chief financial officer Dmitry Zhurba told Interfax.

The board will vote on insuring its directors and executives for up to $20,000 each at its Feb. 25 meeting, Interfax reported Zhurba as saying.

UES employees will receive the insurance benefit upon winning any civil or criminal court case brought by minority shareholders, Interfax reported.

Russia Fuels BP Growth

LONDON (Bloomberg) -- BP, Europe's largest oil company, boosted its fourth-quarter dividend 26 percent and said profit rose because of surging prices and rising oil and gas production in Russia.

Net income rose to $3.03 billion, or 14 cents per share, from a restated $2.25 billion, or 10 cents, a year earlier, under accounting that removes gains from oil inventories, the London-based company said Tuesday.

BP CEO John Browne's move into Russia helped the company boost production by 4 percent, unlike the decline in output at rival Royal Dutch/Shell Group.

Russia Powers Oriflame

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Oriflame Cosmetics, which sells makeup in countries including Russia and Vietnam, said fourth-quarter profit rose 49 percent as interest expenses fell.

Net income climbed to 24.8 million euros ($31.7 million) from 16.7 million euros a year earlier, the Stockholm-based company said.

The company uses catalogs to showcase its products, rather than stores, and competes with Avon Products in markets such as Eastern Europe and Asia.

Russia is Oriflame's biggest market, while Avon has said its sales were increasing more quickly there than in any other country. Avon opened a $40 million plant near Moscow last year.

Soap Maker Pulls Plug

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- PZ Cussons, the British maker of Imperial Leather soap, said it will stop doing business in Russia and sell its Chinese unit after losses in both markets helped to reduce fiscal first-half profit by 3.5 percent.

Cussons does not have any Russian factories and instead imports goods that it manufactures in Poland. Profitability in Russia evaporated as the zloty rose against the ruble last year, according to Graham Calder, the Stockport, England-based company's finance director.

"The way to do business in Russia is to manufacture there, and we are not prepared to invest in that at this stage," Calder said in a telephone interview.

Founded in the 19th century as a trading post in Sierra Leone, PZ Cussons has more recently concentrated on hygiene products and household goods.