LONDON – Nine months after surprising the world with an $11-billion venture to buy a stake in Russia’s state oil company, Glencore is selling most of it and emerging from the deal with a valuable crude supply contract and political ties in Moscow burnished.
The companies announced on Friday that the Glencore-Qatar consortium would sell the bulk of its stake in Rosneft PJSC to CEFC China Energy Co, a little known but rapidly expanding Chinese conglomerate. CEFC would become the third-largest shareholder in Russia’s state oil champion after the Russian state and BP Plc, while the Qatar Investment Authority would retain a 4.7% stake.
Glencore would be left with a stake of just 0.5% -- but the commodities giant will retain a prized side deal to trade 220 000 barrels a day of oil from Rosneft.
"By means of essentially a political favor to Moscow, they’re able to secure for themselves a significant quantity of material to feed into their trading business at a time when other traders are finding this an extremely difficult market," Paul Gait, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd. in London, said by phone.
What’s more, the Baar, Switzerland-based company has cemented its political ties in one of the world’s top producers of commodities. For his role in the Rosneft privatization deal, Glasenberg was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship by President Vladimir Putin.
In late 2016, the Russian government was scrambling to complete the planned sale of a 19.5% stake in Rosneft to help narrow the budget deficit. The deal with Glencore and the Qatari sovereign wealth fund, aided by financing from Intesa Sanpaolo SpA and Russian banks, meant the budget received the proceeds of the sale before the end of the year.
The Glencore-Qatar consortium "has now been shown to have been a holder of convenience rather than a serious strategic investor," analysts at Sberbank CIB said in a research note on Monday.
Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin even suggested that the deal unveiled in December had only ever been the first step in the reorganization of Rosneft’s ownership structure.
The share sale to CEFC "gives a final form to the shareholder structure of our company," Sechin told state television station Rossiya 24. The Glencore-Qatar consortium will use CEFC’s investment of roughly $9-billion to pay down its debts, a person familiar with the deal said last week.
Glencore and Qatar were in talks with CEFC for several months, according to a person familiar with the matter. Japanese companies had also expressed interest in buying a stake from the consortium, the person said.
Glencore’s chief executive Ivan Glasenberg has long boasted strong connections in Russia, with some rivals jokingly calling him "Uncle Vanya" after the famous play by Anton Chekhov and the diminutive form of the name Ivan.
Over several, decades Glencore has built a leading position in trade of Russian commodities from wheat to aluminum.
"We’ve been dealing in Russia for many years. We started getting very active since 1991-92," Glasenberg told Putin at a meeting in the Kremlin in January. "We have a very active relationship in getting commodities out of Russia."
Glencore has an 8.75% stake in United Co. Rusal, the largest aluminum producer outside China, and a deal to buy much of its output. It is the second-largest wheat exporter from Russia, which has rapidly grown to become the world’s largest supplier of the grain.
And in addition to trading over 400 000 barrels a day of Rosneft’s oil, it also has an offtake agreement and a 25% stake in mid-sized producer Russneft PJSC. Glencore’s overall oil trading volumes surged 39% in the first half of the year, in part thanks to the Rosneft deal.
"Given what they’ve now announced, it seems very clear that this was Ivan Glasenberg flexing the quality of his address book," said Gait. "It’s very hard to see how many other people would be in a position to have those kind of discussions at that kind of level."
Peter Grauer, the chairman of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, is a senior independent non-executive director of Glencore.