Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State May Take Over Norilsk Nickel

Vladimir Potanin's buyout of CEO Mikhail Prokhorov's blocking stake in Norilsk Nickel and other assets within the Interros holding company could well lead to state control over the company, one of the country's last few strategic assets in private hands, analysts said Thursday.

The change in ownership appeared largely to be a surprise to the market, but comes just weeks after Prokhorov was detained by French police during an investigation into a prostitution ring and could be linked to it in some way, analysts said.

Under the deal, Potanin, one of the country's most politically savvy oligarchs who has taken care to stay loyal to the Kremlin, will have a stake of about 55 percent in Norilsk. Potanin and Prokhorov will split their shares in other Interros assets, including Polyus Gold, the country's largest gold miner.

Shares of Norilsk on the RTS rose 5.74 percent to $175 on Thursday.

Where Potanin will get an estimated $7.8 billion to take over Prokhorov's share of approximately 27 percent in Interros was not immediately clear. Interros gave no financial details of the buyout in its statement on the issue Wednesday.

"There is absolutely no funding now," said Rob Edwards, metals and mining analyst at Renaissance Capital, referring to estimates that Potanin would need to raise extra cash for the deal.

While it is unclear exactly where Potanin will get the money to acquire Prokhorov's share, it should be very straightforward for him to finance the buyout through loans, said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank.

Servicing the debt could put more pressure on Potanin, however, and may lead to the buyout being a short-term one, with someone else stepping in over the next few months to take over the debts and assets, analysts said.

Potanin may also wish to cash in some of his assets, which could lead to higher dividends or share buybacks, Deutsche UFG said in a note to investors Thursday.

In any case, Potanin's move "is not the endgame but one in a chain of events," Edwards said.

Weafer agreed that the investment was short term rather than long term. The state or a state-controlled buyer, such as diamond monopoly Alrosa, will likely take control -- first of a blocking share and later perhaps of a controlling one, he said.

Norilsk, the world's largest nickel producer, is a key strategic asset over which the state would like to have influence, Weafer said.

In a note to investors Thursday, Renaissance Capital said it believed control over Norilsk Nickel would never be allowed to shift to a non-Russian or non-favored group.