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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Western Banks Sign Off on Record Rosneft Loan

Russian plans to liberalize share trading in the world's largest gas company moved close to completion on Thursday with a long-awaited deal on a record $7.5 billion loan, Russia's biggest ever, to finance the transaction.

State oil firm Rosneft said it had agreed on terms with Western banks to fund the state's acquisition of a 10.7 percent stake in Gazprom, a precursor to share liberalization that will make the gas monopoly the world's second-largest emerging markets stock after South Korea's Samsung Electronics.

The loan, to be paid out by the end of the year, will help the state raise its stake in Gazprom to over 50 percent from 38 percent now, paving the way for the lifting of curbs on foreign ownership of the gas giant's shares.

The money will be disbursed to Rosneftegaz, the special purpose vehicle set up to finance the Gazprom share deal, and repaid from proceeds of an initial public offering in Rosneft, its main asset, planned for next year.

The banks signing up to the deal -- ABN AMRO, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley -- will also advise Rosneft, Russia's No. 3 oil company, on its IPO.

"The signing of the documents on the biggest credit in Russia's recent history testifies to the sustained growth of interest from investors in Russia," Rosneft said in a statement.

The loan is the largest ever for a Russian borrower and is the biggest since a $3 billion loan raised by Gazprom in 1997.

The deal was signed during a visit by President Vladimir Putin to Germany, where an accord was due on building a pipeline to export Russian gas across the Baltic Sea to Germany.

It brings Putin's vision of projecting Russian power through state control of a strong and growing energy industry a step closer to reality.

Only this week, Gazprom became the first Russian company with a market capitalization of $100 billion, and the flotation of a minority stake in Rosneft could be enticing for investors with a strong appetite for risk.

"Putin's association with this signing shows that this reshaping of the Russian oil and gas industry is his will. The intention has been there for a while. This is the execution," said one banker involved in the loan.

The loan was structured as a three-year facility to gain Central Bank approvals, but it includes put options to the banks to turn it into a one-year bridge to the anticipated IPO, which is how it will be sold to lenders.

The deal is expected to be priced at 155 basis points over LIBOR and secured on 49 percent of shares in Rosneft. Final validation of the loan's syndication strategy will take place on Friday, bankers said.

Banking sources said Britain's Barclays was also expected to join the syndicate, which pushes Russia's borrowing volume so far this year up to $18 billion, above last year's record volume of $13.6 billion.

The deal comes less than a year after investors recoiled from the state-driven break-up of oil major Yukos, which was stripped of its main asset, Yuganskneftegaz, after failing to pay a crippling back-tax bill.