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Rosneft Should Extract Russias Oil, Not Its Cash

Published: August 27, 2014 (Issue # 1826)


By Konstantin Sonin

One of the biggest economic sensations earlier this month was the news that Rosneft, one of the largest oil companies in the world, had appealed to the Russian government for help. One of their requests, for example, was a soft loan of 1.5 trillion rubles ($40 billion).

Both the scale and the nature of this request are a bit surprising. First of all, the amount is greater than the federal budget for public health and education combined. And secondly, to an outside observer, the very idea of a nationalized oil company looking for help from the government seems odd.

After all, what was the point of nationalizing Yukos and handing its immense resources to Rosneft (if we dont get into a discussion about personal financial or political gain)?

History shows that the governments of developing countries get more money from nationalized companies than through taxation of private corporations. Governments of developed countries face this problem to a lesser degree; they are more successful at collecting taxes.

But what is the point of nationalization a difficult and costly process if as a result the government doesnt have the opportunity to access additional funds from the company in times of need (by lowering the salaries of managers and reducing investment programs, for example) and instead finds itself in the role of a lending institution?

Aside from this specific problem, there is a more general problem with a government lending money to state companies.

Imagine that BP or Exxon borrowed money from the Russian government and then was to repay the loan. The lender would be able to get something in return for its money: collateral (if there was any) or part of the companys assets (shares, perhaps).The fact that the lender will get part of the borrowers assets if the latter doesnt repay the loan is good motivation to do so.

But what will happen if Rosneft doesnt repay its loan to the government? What can the state take if this happens? Nothing, because it already owns the company almost completely. So there is no motivating factor in this case to repay the loan.

But even this general difficulty isnt the last or even biggest problem with Rosnefts call for help from the state. The request itself is a sign of the companys effectiveness and stability, and a bad one.

The sanctions causing Rosneft difficulties in managing its own debts are simply part of the world that a large oil company must operate in. For Exxon and BP, dealing with political risks, both within the countries where they work and geopolitically as well, has long been a main, if not the primary, management task.

If Rosneft cant handle its debt in the changing political situation, it means that the company is not optimally structured or appropriately prepared for operating in the market. Its not inconceivable that its size (the biggest oil company in the world) is excessive.

If so, we should expect proposals from Rosneft as to which assets will be sold off and which expenses will be reduced so that the company can continue to be what it should: an effective and stable cash cow for our country.

Konstantin Sonin is a professor and vice rector at the Higher School of Economics. The views expressed in this article are his own.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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