* Says Alfa Bank has asked for $150 mln repayment early
* Says in talks with state-owned bank on refinancing
* Mechel should repay $1 bln of debt this year
* Shares down 9 pct in Moscow, underperforming index (Adds details, comments from official, source)
By Darya Korsunskaya
MOSCOW, March 14 (Reuters) - Russia may again have to step in to help coal and steel group Mechel after the country’s largest private bank asked for the early repayment of a $150 million loan.
Just three months after agreeing easier debt terms to give it breathing space to turn itself round, businessman Igor Zyuzin’s Mechel is again at the centre of frantic talks to make sure the employer of more than 80,000 people does not go bust.
Showing the importance of the steelmaker, which operates in 11 Russian regions, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov held a meeting to discuss Mechel’s situation on Thursday.
The ministry “will look for assistance to resolve the situation,” Siluanov told reporters on Friday in response to a question about how the government would help Mechel after the company said Alfa Bank had called in a $150 million debt early. He declined to provide details.
Mechel said on Friday it was in talks with Alfa Bank and discussing debt refinancing with several banks, including state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB). It did not elaborate and Alfa Bank was not able to provide an immediate comment.
State banks have already helped refinance or restructure the company’s loans. According to the Vedomosti newspaper, the government is looking at the option of providing Mechel with a $2 billion loan from VEB.
Like many other large metals and mining companies, Mechel invested heavily in expansion before the 2008 financial crisis hit demand.
“There is no catastrophe ... There are problems, of course, but they are medium-term problems,” a source, who had attended the meeting with Siluanov, told Reuters.
Alfa Bank’s demand was unexpected and announced during the meeting with Siluanov. A one week extension on its loan to Mechel was agreed until March 21, Vedomosti reported, citing sources close to both sides.
“If the company fails to agree on the repayment at the previously agreed time (June-July 2014), Mechel will fulfil all its obligations to the bank and will repay the loan ahead of schedule,” Mechel’s press-service said in an emailed comment.
Its shares were down 8.8 percent in Moscow by 1205 GMT, underperforming Russia’s main stock index, which was 1.9 percent lower ahead of a referendum in Crimea that is expected to provoke western sanctions against Russia.
Mechel had net debt of $9.4 billion as of late 2013 and should repay $1 billion this year, including $500 million to Russian state-controlled bank VTB. It posted a net loss of $2.2 billion for the first nine months of 2013 due to write-downs.
Mechel’s market value has lost more than 40 percent in Moscow and more than 30 percent in New York since the start of 2014. The company has previously blamed a part of the slump on speculation. (Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Additional reporting by Svetlana Burmistrova, Polina Devitt and Andrey Kuzmin; Writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Mark Potter)