HONG KONG/MOSCOW - UC RUSAL has secured a member of the Rothschild family as well as one of southeast Asia's richest men as investors in an IPO that could value the indebted aluminum firm at nearly $27 billion, sources said on Tuesday.
Paulson & Co, the U.S. hedge fund that made billions of dollars profit last year, is also among the four cornerstone investors for the Hong Kong share float planned for January by the world's largest aluminum producer, two sources involved in the listing said.
UC RUSAL's roughly $2 billion IPO is a major step for the Russian firm, which is trying to raise cash to repay $14.9 billion in debt, and also for Hong Kong, a financial center trying to attract more publicly traded companies from beyond Asia.
The presence of at the cornerstone investors, who buy shares before a public listing and promise to hold them until a later date, gives a boost to an IPO that was delayed by regulatory concerns and has been declared off-limits to retail investors.
The investors include Nathaniel Rothschild's private investment company; Robert Kuok Hock Nien, the Malaysian-Chinese businessman said to be worth around $10 billion, and Paulson & Co, the New York hedge fund run by billionaire John Paulson.
The sources also named Russian state bank VEB -- which has already pledged to buy nearly one-third of the 10 percent of UC RUSAL shares on offer -- as the fourth cornerstone investor.
Some analysts say the IPO is little more than a state bailout for RUSAL and majority owner Oleg Deripaska, especially after Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission agreed to it on condition ordinary investors are left out.
Regulator concern was raised by RUSAL's $4.5 billion loan from VEB, which is due to be repaid next year, as well as a London lawsuit against Deripaska that could potentially see a stake sold to former associate Michael Cherney.
UC RUSAL, which has declined comment on the IPO, appears ready to press on regardless, the sources said. The company has appointed two non-executive directors from Hong Kong.
Banks involved in the organization of the IPO also gave their first valuations of UC RUSAL at levels above the $17-22 billion range quoted on December 25 by sources.
China's BOC International said UC RUSAL could be worth between $21.1 billion and $26.7 billion, depending on aluminum prices, while Macquarie Group said in a separate report the valuation could be between $21.3 billion and $25.9 billion.
Aluminum is trading near 14-month highs, defying a global supply overhang and clawing back a large portion of the losses sustained when the financial crisis slashed metal prices.
BOC International estimated UC RUSAL could turn a net profit of $505 million following the recovery in prices, and that net profit could more than double to $1.04 billion in 2010.
Macquarie, in its report, estimated a net loss of $2.2 billion for UC RUSAL in 2009 and a return to profit in 2010.
UC RUSAL plans to start pre-marketing the IPO on January 5, with a road show scheduled to start on January 11-12 and pricing on January 20-22.
(Additional reporting by Michael Flaherty, writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Rupert Winchester)