By John Helmer in Moscow
A Russian government effort to end special lobbying by major company shareholders, chief executives, sector cabinet ministers, and regional governors has either just ended; or else it has failed, because there isn’t enough government cash or credit for to satisfy everyone, and the political cost of saying no to some of the applicants is too high for the Kremlin to acknowledge publicly.
The Russian government website published yesterday a list of 295 companies, which have been identified as approved by a government commission on stabilization measures in the current crisis. The practical meaning of the approval list is unclear, however.
The commission has been headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov and Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina. Their committee was appointed by President Dmitry Medvedev. According to a public statement by Shuvalov, a total of Rb3.2 trillion ($110 billion) may be required to prevent widespread insolvency and company collapse.
Russian reports indicate the new list was modified in discussions with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his deputy, Igor Sechin, whose proposal for the approved companies was different. Putin chairs the board of Vnesheconombank (VEB), which has been issuing bailout loans to Russian companies facing heavy foreign debt redemptions. Sechin is in charge of the energy, mining and natural resource sector, and chairman of the board of Rosneft, Russia’s leading oil company.
Last-minute delays in releasing the list have been attributed in Moscow press reports to faction-fighting between the Medvedev and Putin groups. A spokesman for Putin is also reported as claiming there will be further changes to the list.
At a press conference, Shuvalov and Nabiullina claimed the criteria for selection of companies to the list related to their size — an annual turnover of Rb15 billion ($536 million), and an employment roll of not less than 4,000.
In numerical terms, the biggest number on the list represents the electricity sector (36) followed by food and agricultural processors (34), metal and mining companies (32), transportation companies (30), media and telecoms (18), chemical manufacturing and refiners (15) oil and gas (10) pharmaceuticals (10), retailers (7), electronics (7), machinery (6), coal (6), construction (6), car manufacturing (5), and timber processing (5).
In the steel industry, for example, no sizeable mill was left out. All three Russian pipemaking groups — TMK, UMC, and the Chelyabinsk group — have been included in the list, and all major steelmakers. Midsize steel groups were also included on the list: Estar, owned by Vadim Varshavsky; Amurmetal, a fareastern steelmill whose control is shared between Varshavsky and Alexander Shishkin; and Electrostal, a Moscow stainless steel producer. While the major coking-coal suppliers to the mills have been included on the list, excluded are the major ferrous scrap suppliers and the downstream steel distributors.
A report by Renaissance Capital, a Moscow investment bank, concludes: “Although state support for the listed companies is not guaranteed, they may expect to receive state guarantees for their credit, higher regulated tariffs, state orders, tax-liability restructuring and even direct financing.”
Uralsib Bank is more pessimistic, reporting that the list is “a clear indication that the government expects a further worsening of the economic situation in the coming months, and is drawing up contingency plans.”