Once upon a time, about seven years ago, there lived TNK-BP, a joint venture between British oil behemoth BP and a group of Russian billionaires.

The partners never really liked each other – from the very first day they quarrelled - but they had the same interest at heart: gas and oil in Russia. There also lived a company called Rusia Petroleum which had one of the world’s largest gas condensate fields Kovykta. Eventually, TNK-BP got a share in it.

At first, Kovykta, with almost 2 trillion cubic meters of gas - enough to fuel the USA for three years - appeared to be a gold mine. But the business never took off. There was no need for so much gas locally, and the company could not sell it to nearby China either, because that was the monopoly of Gazprom. What is more, the state threatened to withdraw the licence if Rusia Petroleum doesn’t start extraction of gas in substantial amounts. (Develop or leave.)

The question was not, then to sell or not to sell and not even to sell to whom, but how get a better price. And that how is of a particular interest.

TNK-BP has a 62% share in Rusia Petroleum; 26% of the company is owned by Interros of Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin, while local government holds 11%. TNK-BP, however, is the company’s main creditor. It called the loans and forced Rusia Petroleum into bankruptcy.

During bankruptcy, management of the company moves from shareholders to creditors, in this case to TNK-BP. It will be able to sell the company’s assets, and Kovykta too, and return its investments - so that other stockholders do not interfere and do not claim a share in revenues until the loan is fully repaid.

This is a good demonstration of how a mixture of debt and equity - when the bulk of investment comes as a loan - can be of very real, practical help.


June 8, 2010
photo: NLshop - Fotolia.com