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The worth of voucher

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti economic commentator Oleg Mityayev) - Fifteen years ago - on August 14, 1992 - the Russian president issued a decree launching voucher privatization.

It has long been admitted that most Russians did not gain anything from this process. Figures show, though, that some managed to make good money by exchanging vouchers for shares in big Russian companies. But very few were so lucky. Chances for investing vouchers into company shares were limited.

Voucher privatization was supposed to embody the idea of social justice during transition from socialism to capitalism. Regardless of sex, age or place of work, 151 million Russian citizens received the right to a cut of the former "property of the whole people." In line with the decree, each citizen got a privatization check or voucher in Sberbank (Russia's Savings Bank). For some reason, the voucher had nominal value of 10,000 rubles (or $60 when the decree was issued). Russian citizens could dispose of their vouchers as they saw fit - sell, transfer to voucher investment funds (VIF) or buy company shares.

Galloping inflation was rapidly swallowing the vouchers' nominal value, prompting most Russians to sell them. In October 1992, the first month of the vouchers' distribution, their value dwindled from $40 to $25, but it was still possible to sell them for twice as much (20,000 rubles), say, in the Moscow subway. Those who thought they knew better than that, handed their vouchers to the VIFs, that had instantly multiplied like rabbits. But they went up in smoke with the same speed right after the official completion of privatization - in mid-1994, leaving voucher owners empty-handed.

But some Russians still managed to exchange their vouchers directly for the shares of the more promising national companies. They had to wait until 1994 (by the start of it the voucher's nominal value was $8). All voucher auctions at which people could receive shares of plants and factories took place in the first half of that year. The employees of the domestic industry's flagships had the best options for getting shares at the closed voucher auctions. But outsiders could also receive the coveted shares of the Unified Energy Systems (RAO EES), Surgutneftegaz, or Norilsk Nikel with their vouchers if they took part in the national specialized voucher auction.

Those who exchanged their vouchers for shares in such companies, made the right choice. Thus, a package of RAO EES shares received in 1994 for one voucher can be now sold for $600-$800, Norilsk Nickel, for about $650, and Surgutneftegaz, for $100. This is not much, but still something for a paper, about which most people have totally forgotten.

Those who have exchanged their vouchers for Gazprom shares - mostly its employees - are the winners. But not all are so lucky. Each region had its own conversion ratio. Muscovites could get a mere 50 shares for one voucher, whereas their colleagues from the Republic of Mari El - 5,900. Thus, a package of Gazprom shares received for one voucher in Moscow costs $500 today, which compares with a handsome $60,000 in Mari El.

But not many could make money on their vouchers. Most Russians had very restricted opportunities for receiving even a small bit of the former socialist property. Moreover, they had no idea what a stock exchange was all about and the latter did not even exist in Russia yet. To sum up, those who sold their vouchers did not make a huge mistake - at least they got some money for them.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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