* Flight of some Russians from London exchange
* Polymetal seeks diverse shareholder base
* Gold price seen rangebound after rise in 2016
By Barbara Lewis
LONDON, March 15 (Reuters) - Russian gold and silver miner Polymetal plans to keep its London stock exchange listing and hopes to attract some of the U.S. shareholders lost at the height of tensions between Moscow and the West, a senior executive said on Wednesday.
Fellow Russian miner Nordgold and Russian homebuilder PIK Group have decided to leave the London market, saying their market capitalisation did not reflect their value.
But Polymetal’s Chief Financial Officer Maxim Nazimok said it would stay in the FTSE and that its diverse shareholder base with a free float exceeding half the shares in issue set it apart from those that had withdrawn.
“We are driving towards a Western-style shareholder base and we would like to expand it further. For example, the U.S. shareholders we lack since the emergence of the geopolitical tensions and sanctions, we would very much welcome them back,” he told Reuters.
Relations between the West and Moscow deteriorated with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and sanctions remain in place.
Nazimok said the London listing had been “an important source of capital” for Polymetal, which on Wednesday reported a 79 percent rise in net earnings for 2016, when it also bought two major new assets.
“Shares as an acquisition currency have served us pretty well not only with small deals but also with large ones,” he said.
“Being a publicly listed company is also helpful in securing debt financing. Banks, both Russian and European, are much more comfortable dealing with us knowing that we remain a listed company.”
Last year Polymetal bought the Kapan gold mine in Armenia and the Komarovskoye gold deposit in Kazakhstan, where it is also developing the Kyzyl gold mine, expected to be launched in late 2018.
The 2016 earnings were boosted by favourable exchange rates and higher gold prices, which Nazimok expects to be rangebound as the United States increases interest rates.
Longer term, he said gold would benefit from its role as an inflation hedge.
Polymetal shareholders, he said, would meanwhile be rewarded with an increased dividend policy announced on Wednesday in the 2016 results and a company strategy focused on maximising investor returns by grouping production around processing hubs to curb costs.
“We don’t want to waste the cash generated, we want to distribute this as a meaningful cash return to shareholders,” Nazimok said.
“For us that’s probably one of the only ways to distinguish ourselves within the sector, especially having in mind the jurisdictional discount we are inevitably facing,” he said, referring to the decision to operate only in former Soviet Union nations. (Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)