Foreign investors were welcome to take part in the privatization of Russian companies, a spokesman for the Kremlin told reporters Tuesday. The comments came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said that stakes in state-owned companies should be sold only to domestic investors.
Russia had announced a $35 billion anti-crisis plan late last month, without providing many details. As those proposals ran into trouble quickly, Putin voiced his support for privatization of state-owned companies as a way to change the structure of the Russian economy, during a government meeting Monday.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday: “Russia has always been and still remains an open country for foreign investment. Russia is interested in acquiring new foreign partners,” Sputnik reported. The country’s finance ministry wants to raise 1 trillion rubles ($12.5 billion) over two years by selling stakes in state-owned firms.
However, foreign fund managers are skeptic.
“The government has been talking about privatization for several years, but they always find an excuse not to do it. I see a high probability of this not happening,” Pavel Laberko, a London-based money manager at Union Bancaire Privee, told Bloomberg.
The Western sanctions on Russia, put in place after its annexation of Crimea in 2014, would also deter foreign investors from buying into Russian companies.
“U.S. and European investors will stay away from privatization sales even if the stock prices are really attractive since they’re afraid of possible new sanctions,” Bloomberg quoted Zurich-based Sergey Vakhrameev, a money manager at GL Financial.
According to a Reuters report quoting unidentified sources, oil companies Rosneft and Bashneft, shipping firm Sovkomflot, diamond miner Alrosa and state-controlled bank, VTB, whose 2012 share buyback triggered criticism by foreign fund managers, are being considered for divestment. The report added that some of the stakes could be sold on the Moscow Stock Exchange.
“It is possible to sell these assets, but it will be a serious effort,” Andrei Shemetov, deputy head of the stock exchange, said, adding: “It’s better to break the selling down into a few stages.” He reasoned that the stock market may not have the capacity to handle stakes from two big oil firms simultaneously, Reuters reported.
Given that foreign money may not be very forthcoming and the dire need of money, along with the political compulsion to not appear like the assets were sold cheaply, some have speculated that the government may force some Russian oligarchs to buy the stakes offered.
“The only option is to force some oligarchs, loyal to the Kremlin, to buy stake with a premium to market prices. Then it will look more like a tax on a group of people, which would be quite a realistic scenario, given Putin’s style of management,” Reuters quoted an investment banker close to the process as saying.