MOSCOW, July 18 (RIA Novosti)
Gazprom to lay off 10% of top-level personnel / Moscow ranks 4th in parking rates / North Stream finds strong advocate in Polish ex-president / Khodorkovsky to quit politics in exchange for freedom / TNK-BP to boost oil supplies to China
Gazprom to lay off 10% of top-level personnel
Russian energy giant Gazprom, which employs nearly half a million people, will cut top-level personnel at its head office by 10% (over 500 jobs) starting on January 1, 2009, business daily Kommersant quoted a gas trader as saying.
The holding has confirmed that CEO Alexei Miller issued instructions to the company's divisions to draft personnel reduction and streamlining plans, to be implemented next year.
The instructions primarily concern Gazprom's head office and branches, which employ nearly 5,770 people.
"Cuts will be as deep as 20% in some divisions and zero in others," said a source connected to the company's board of directors.
The gas monopoly is doing this to cut managerial expenses. According to its consolidated financial report for 2007 calculated to International Financial Reporting Standards, spending on wages increased by 24.7%, to 248.9 billion rubles ($10.7 billion).
The report says: "Growth in spending on wages and social projects is mainly connected with rises in the average wage and other payments to the staff."
The company's personnel increased by about 3,800 last year, to 436,000. Of that number, 9.3% are the managerial staff, 22.2% professionals, and 63.1% workers.
Managerial spending at the head office increased by 32.6%, to 23.7 billion rubles ($1.02 billion), and as much as 6.4 billion rubles ($275.5 million) was channeled into the wage fund, or 22.2% more than in 2006. The number of personnel in the head office and branches increased by 90.
Valery Nesterov, an analyst with Troika Dialog investment company, said: "Gazprom's spending on personnel was growing at a fast rate and is one of the main reasons for its rather weak financial performance in 2007, and especially the fourth quarter."
"Since the gas monopoly cannot cut the cost of energy and other unregulated outlays, it is trying to balance net profit to the number of its personnel," the analyst said.
According to Nesterov, the decision to cut personnel would benefit investors, because "the monopoly's staff is too large, and the planned cuts will encourage managers to work better."
Konstantin Cherepanov, senior analyst at the KIT Finance investment bank, said personnel cuts would not affect the monopoly's market value, because dismissing 600 people will not save much money for Gazprom.
"Wages make up only 15% of Gazprom's total spending," he said.
However, the monopoly intends to use the cuts to improve corporate governance, which is reportedly not maintaining professional standards. Its market value has dropped by 8.7%, to $316.7 billion, since its shareholder meeting on June 27.
It will be the first major personnel reduction at Gazprom since Miller became its CEO in 2000, the newspaper writes. Other Russian oil and gas companies so far do not plan similar cuts, whereas international concerns are discharging personnel.
Chevron CEO David O'Reilly mentioned plans to cut over 1,000 jobs in the downstream (refining and marketing) sectors, where profitability is falling, he said.
Sergei Kazakov, senior lawyer at the Sameta tax & legal consulting company, said dismissed personnel are entitled to at least two monthly salaries, or even three salaries if they do not find a job immediately and register at a labor exchange.
Moreover, personnel must be notified about mass layoffs three months in advance, the lawyer said.
Gazprom officials could not say if the monopoly's collective agreement provides for additional severance payments. But the newspaper's source in the company said no major compensations were stipulated because the ultimate goal was to keep the wages of the remaining personnel at a high level.
Until recently, wages at Gazprom were lower than in Russian oil companies.
Moscow ranks 4th in parking rates
London heads a list of cities with the highest parking costs, Colliers International says in its global survey. The leader is the City (with its monthly parking rate of $1,167), followed by the West End ($1,136). Sydney is placed third, with $775 per month. Moscow ranks 4th ($461.5).
The average cost of organized parking in downtown Moscow varies between $350 and $500 for one parking space per month, said Olga Yasko, director for analysis at Colliers International.
Surveyors polled parking sites neighboring on business centers and territories offering parking services.
A similar situation describes daily rates: London's City leads again, with a daily rate of $68, followed by Amsterdam ($66.1), and London's West End ($62.2). Moscow, The Hague and Vienna share 4th place ($61.5). The lowest rates are charged in New Delhi, at $1.75 per day.
"Colliers's estimate for Moscow is adequate, although some of the office centers under construction are already offering to pay $750 per space per month," said Dmitry Kanunov, deputy director for strategic consulting at Knight Frank.
Moscow is starved of organized parking spaces. The Moscow government suggested several methods: introducing a fee for entering the city's center, construction of underground parking sites, and establishing park-and-ride parking zones.
"Currently the capital has only one park-and-ride facility on Gagarin Square designed for 640 parking spaces. But it is not popular," Yasko said. The shortage of free space in the capital is forcing the construction of underground parking, said Vladimir Pantyushin, head of research at Jones Lang LaSalle.
According to Kanunov, underground parking lots are half-empty, although demand is high. Landlords find it more profitable (in terms of cleaning, lighting, etc.) to mothball part of the parking space than to rent it out at cheaper rates.
North Stream finds strong advocate in Polish ex-president
Former Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski has unexpectedly supported the Russian-German North Stream project to build a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea bypassing Poland.
He said the pipeline could give Poland a chance to get safe and reliable energy and therefore Warsaw must join the project so as not to be deprived of gas from Russia.
In an interview with a German publication, Kwasniewski said he regretted that Warsaw was not in talks with Moscow or Berlin on that subject. He said other countries, too, including Scandinavian and Baltic, are making the same mistake in trying to hold back the project.
These remarks have had a bombshell effect on Polish politicians, because all major political forces in Poland are protesting as one against the Russian-German project.
"Most see only politics in it, they are unhappy about a trend to leave Poland out as a transporting country," Adam Daniel Rotfeld, a former foreign minister, said recently.
As the project was getting off the ground, Poland was invited to consider its participation in it, and a Polish branch of the line was discussed. But Warsaw took the bit between its teeth. President Lech Kaczynski and the National Security Bureau came to the conclusion that the pipeline posed a threat to Poland's national security.
Konrad Szymanski, member of the European Parliament from the opposition Polish party Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (Law and Justice), on Thursday remarked acidly that "Kwasniewski's vote signalled strong support for Gazprom" and asked what motives the former president had in backing the project.
Zbigniew Chlebowski, head of the parliamentary group of the ruling Civil Platform party, also failed to show understanding. He said that the government favored diversification of energy supplies.
However, Tadeusz Iwinski of the Union of Democratic Left Forces, endorsed his former leader: "We must enter into negotiations on participation in the project. The worst-case scenario would be the construction of the pipeline, with Poland left high and dry. The train will leave without us."
In reply to critics, Kwasniewski said that his remarks "had been overblown a bit" but stood by his guns: "We should not close our eyes to the facts. If Poland fails to stop the construction by pleading its environmental effects, it should join the project. The pipeline could be part of a common energy policy and turned to good account."
This self-sparked discussion is running while a search is on for alternative routes for getting gas. The other day the Polish government approved a plan for White Stream pipeline to transport gas from Azerbaijan to the European Union via Georgia, the Black Sea and Ukraine.
During this week's visit to Paris, Lech Kaczynski held talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on that subject, lobbying Azerbaijan's interests in particular. Officials in Warsaw, especially in the presidential administration, regard Baku as a key partner that could diminish Eastern Europe's dependence on Russian energy supplies.
Khodorkovsky to quit politics in exchange for freedom
The Ingodinsky district court in Chita, Eastern Siberia, said it was ready to examine a parole request from former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, serving an eight-year jail term, in the next 30 days.
However, Russian authorities are unlikely to release Khodorkovsky unless he pledges to quit public politics. Khodorkovsky's defense attorney Yury Schmidt said his client could accept the deal because he did not oppose the incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev.
On Tuesday, judge Igor Falileyev at the Ingodinsky district court said Khodorkovsky's parole request could be examined without delay, that criminal proceedings legislation did not set any court-hearing deadlines, and that it usually took up to 30 days to examine such requests.
The judiciary branch disavowed previous statements by Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) officials, including Yunus Amayev, head of FSIN's Chita regional division, who said Khodorkovsky would deserve parole if he did not violate prison regulations.
The statement implied that prison authorities had denied Khodorkovsky's parole request for violating an instruction ordering all prisoners to put their hands behind the back during their daily walks.
On Thursday, Khodorkovsky' parents addressed President Medvedev through the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta, asking him to release their son prior to their 50th wedding anniversary this fall.
That same day, writer Alexander Prokhanov, editor-in-chief of the leftist-nationalist daily Zavtra (Tomorrow), said Khodorkovsky could be released this October.
"My trustworthy sources claim that Khodorkovsky will be released in exchange for a promise not to engage in politics," Prokhanov told the paper.
Schmidt said he had not told Khodorkovsky about the official parole offer in exchange for his promise not to engage in politics. "I would support the offer, if it were forthcoming," Schmidt told the paper.
He said Khodorkovsky's possible consent did not mean that he would have to discard his ideals. "Khodorkovsky, who does not oppose Medvedev, would not be surprised if they told him not to engage in politics," Schmidt said.
Nikita Belykh, leader of the Union of Right Forces (SPS), said he did not believe that the Kremlin would release Khodorkovsky even on this condition. "The authorities do not want to create a new threat because Khodorkovsky symbolizes all opposition forces," Belykh told the paper.
Alexei Makarkin, vice president of the Center for Political Technologies, said President Medvedev no longer had any bad feelings about the Yukos case. which was now history.
Unlike Vladimir Putin, Medvedev could release Khodorkovsky if the oligarch appealed for clemency, Dmitry Orlov, general director of the Russian Agency of Political and Economic Communications, told the paper.
"In this case, Khodorkovsky would face a bleak political future after his release," he said.
TNK-BP to boost oil supplies to China
TNK-BP intends to increase oil supplies to China, Jonathan Kollek, vice president for supply trading & logistics at the Russian-British oil venture, said at a briefing yesterday.
The oil terminal in Barabinsk, in the Novosibirsk Region, capable of sending oil to China, Kazakhstan or Novorossiisk, will come on stream in three weeks. High-grade light oil from the Verkh-Tarskoye deposit will be delivered to the terminal.
The company has also been granted a privileged railway tariff for oil transit, Kollek said, which makes rail oil supplies to the three possible destinations profitable. The terminal can handle 120,000 metric tons a month and can increase the capacity to 150,000 tons.
TNK-BP exports around 150,000 metric tons of oil per quarter to China, via the Atasu-Alashankou pipeline.
At present, the most profitable route is the Atasu-Alashankou pipeline, which is connected to the Omsk-Pavlodar pipeline of monopoly operator Transneft.
Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of gas monopoly Gazprom, used the pipeline to export oil. However, last March the Industry and Energy Ministry denied it the right to export oil to China until the end of the year. Gazprom Neft intended to try to change the ministry's decision, but the problem remains unsettled to this day, said Natalia Vyalkina, the company's press secretary.
Fuel consumption is on the rise in China.
Dmitry Lyutyagin, oil and gas analyst at the Moscow-based investment company Veles Capital, said it will grow from 346-350 million tons this year to 522 million in 2015 and 706 million in 2020.
The Russian oil companies' desire to get a piece of the Chinese pie and diversify supply routes is therefore logical.
Vitaly Kryukov, an analyst with the Capital Investment Group, said Russian companies would benefit more from selling crude oil to China and oil products to Kazakhstan. But for the internal conflict, this would be a good time for TNK-BP to buy a refinery in Kazakhstan.
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