Russian Miners Scramble to Refinance Debt

As credit becomes scarce worldwide, the wealthy businessmen or oligarchs that control Russia’s mining giants are moving quickly to refinance large debts, which are secured by stakes in the companies they control. During December, Oleg Deripaska, who owns UC Rusal, was forced to take a $4.5 billion loan from a $50 billion Kremlin bailout fund to protect the company’s 25% stake in Norilsk Nickel from Western creditors. As part of the deal, Alexander Voloshin (See People, p. 8), a top Kremlin official, was appointed chairman of the board at Norilsk Nickel.

During November, Interros Holding Co., a Russian investment firm controlled by Vladimir Potanin, and UC Rusal reached an agreement for Norilsk Nickel to “restore the value of the company,” according to the official press release. Both parties planned to coordinate their positions on the composition of the new board of directors that would be elected during December. For more than a decade, Interros has held a 39% stake in Norilsk Nickel. UC Rusal is the global leader in the aluminum industry, accounting for approximately 12% and 15% of global production of aluminum and alumina, respectively. The company was founded in March 2007 through the merger of Rusal, Sual, and the alumina assets of Glencore.

Recently Deripaska had been scrambling to save UC Rusal and the other industrial assets he owns. Accroding to reports from the Wall St. Journal, he was selling stakes in just about everything he owned to pay down a $14 billion debt. Deripaska had borrowed heavily at the top of the commodity cycle to gain control of the companies. Last year a group of Western banks lent Deripaska $4.5 billion to finance a takeover bid for Norilsk Nickel. UC Rusal purchased a 25% stake in Norilsk Nickel. Potanin opposed the meger with Norilsk Nickel. As base metal prices plunged so did the value of both companies. Western creditors, which held the 25% stake in Norilsk as security for the loan, were demanding more collateral from Deripaska. To stave them off, UC Rusal took the largest loan to date from Moscow’s bailout fund. As part of the deal, Deripaska has offered UC Rusal’s position in Norilsk, as well as other assets, and agreed to bring government representation onto the board.

As featured in Womp 09 Vol 01 -