Russia

Russian steel and coal producer Mechel said on Thursday its 2018 core earnings fell 7 percent versus the previous year, with lower sales in the mining division only partly offset by higher coal prices, Reuters reported. Mechel, controlled by businessman Igor Zyuzin, said its 2018 earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) were at 75.67 billion roubles ($1.2 billion), down from 81.11 billion in 2017. Mechel, at one point on the brink of bankruptcy, has been in restructuring talks with its lenders for several years.

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The chaotic transition to capitalism in Russia and its neighbors triggered a flood of hundreds of billions of dollars out of the former Soviet Union. Torrents of cash were often routed through offshore zones with limited controls, making it difficult to tell the difference between legitimate business and illicit flows from criminal activity. Sometimes the suspect money made its way into prominent international banks.

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The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development may start discussions with the International Bank of Azerbaijan (IBA) over its privatisation later this year, the EBRD’s manager in the South Caucasus country said. Azeri President Ilham Aliyev ordered in 2015 the privatisation of the oil-rich country’s biggest bank after a clean-up to get rid of distressed assets resulting from poor management, Reuters reported. Two years later the state-run IBA proposed a plan to restructure $3.3 billion of its debt, later receiving approval from creditors holding 93.9 percent of the affected debt.

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Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s holding company, LetterOne, has stepped up its criticism of a turnround plan at Spanish grocer Dia Group as it filed regulatory documents for its own bid to buy out and fix the troubled chain, the Financial Times reported. “A lot of Dia’s problems have been in the making for some time,” said Stephan DuCharme, managing partner of LetterOne division L1 Retail.

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Danske Bank has been forced to close all operations in the Baltics and Russia in response to the largest money-laundering scandal, which has prompted EU authorities to launch an investigation of Danish and Estonian regulators. The bank was given eight months to return customer deposits and transfer its loan contracts to another provider in Estonia, after a report released last autumn revealed the extent of the failures at the bank, the Financial Times reported.

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After five years of falling or stagnant incomes, Russian consumers are facing yet more bad news in 2019, Bloomberg News reported. First came the Jan. 1 increase in the value-added tax by two percentage points. A few weeks later, the central bank signaled it could limit one of the key sources battered shoppers have been relying on to keep up their spending: a boom in consumer lending. Real disposable incomes contracted 1.3 percent last month, according to an estimate released by the Federal Statistics Service late Tuesday. The median of 9 economists forecast a decline of 0.9 percent.

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Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman has offered to buy Dia Group in a deal that gives the struggling Spanish supermarket chain an equity value of €417m, a deep discount from its €2.7bn valuation at the end of 2017, the Financial Times reported. Mr Fridman’s holding company, LetterOne, which owns 29 per cent of Dia through its L1 Retail fund, has offered to purchase the rest of the company for €0.67 a share, a premium of 56 per cent to Monday’s closing price. LetterOne bought much of its existing stake early last year, when shares were trading at about €4.

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The 2007 takeover of the Dutch parts of Yukos Oil by Russian state oil company Rosneft’s former subsidiary Promneftstroy was illegal, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled on Friday, upholding an earlier lower appeals court ruling. Yukos Oil went bankrupt in 2006 after its former chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky, fell out with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and the Russian government began demanding billions in back taxes, Reuters reported. Most of Yukos’ assets were absorbed by the Kremlin’s flagship oil producer Rosneft, and its former owners have for years been trying to recover their possessions.

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Russian aluminum company Rusal said today that it has appointed independent non-executive director Jean-Pierre Thomas as its new chairman as part of an agreed restructuring in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions, Reuters reported. The previous chairman, Matthias Warnig, stepped down earlier this week after six years at the world’s largest aluminum producer outside China. His resignation was a condition of the deal.Jean-Pierre Thomas was elected by the board as chairman with effect from Jan. 1, Rusal said in a filing to the Hong Kong bourse.

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Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said yesterday that rising protectionism and trade wars and the unpredictability of the U.S. administration have greatly contributed to global oil price volatility over the past two years, Reuters reported. Oil prices have been volatile, falling by more than a third this quarter, partly due to rising oil production in the U.S. “All these uncertainties, which are now on the market: how China will behave, how India will behave... trade wars and unpredictability on the part of the U.S. administration...

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