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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

Friday, Sept. 19


SPIBAs newest addition to their Cultural Discoveries events is Handmade in Germany, an exhibition featuring unique handmade objects of a significantly higher quality than mass-produced items. The work of over 100 German manufacturers will be displayed during the event, which opens today in the Lutheran Church of Saint Peter and Paul on Nevsky Prospekt and runs through Sept. 28.



Saturday, Sept. 20


Starting on Sept. 18 and ending tomorrow is the Extreme Fantasy Wakeboarding Festival in Sunpark by Sredny Suzdalskoye lake in the Ozerki region of the city.


Those after something more laid back can instead head to Jazz and Wine night at TerraVino with legendary jazz guitarist Ildar Kazahanov. 12/14 Admiralteyskaya Emb.



Sunday, Sept. 21


Learn more about African culture and get some exercise during todays Djembe and Vuvuzela, a bike ride starting in Palace Square that includes several stops where riders can listen to the music of Africa or watch short films about the continent. The riders plan to set off at 4 p.m. and all you need to join is a set of wheels.



Monday, Sept. 22


Do you love puppetry? If so, then be sure to go to BTK-Fest, a five-day festival that starts on Sept. 19 celebrating the art. Contemporaries from France, Belgium, the U.K. and other countries will join Russian artists to put on theatrical performances involving a variety of themes, materials and eras. Workshops and meetings are also scheduled for a chance to discuss the artistic medium in further depth.



Tuesday, Sept. 23


Marina Suhih, Director of the External Communications Department at Rostelecom North-West, and Yana Donskaya, HR Director for Northern Capital Gateway are just some of the confirmed participants of todays round table discussion on Interaction with Trade Unions being hosted by SPIBA. Confirm your attendance with SPIBA by Sept. 22.


Kino Expo 2014, an international film industry convention, will be at LenExpo from today until Sept. 26. The third largest exhibition of film equipment in the world, the expo focuses on not only Russia but former Soviet republics as well.



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