March 24, 2016 / 12:36 PM / 4 years ago

Russian billionaire fond of Faberge eggs hit by more Swiss losses

ZURICH, March 24 (Reuters) - A Russian billionaire with a soft spot for Faberge eggs continues to be hit hard by his Swiss industrial portfolio, with steelmaker Schmolz+Bickenbach on Thursday his latest holding to report a loss.

The company, 40 percent controlled by Viktor Vekselberg’s investor group, posted a loss of 166.8 million Swiss francs ($171 million) in 2015, it said in a statement.

Having grown rich in the 1990s on Russian aluminium and oil, the 58-year-old Vekselberg spent about $90 million on nine jewelled eggs in 2004 from the czar's imperial court and other art objects from the Forbes family. [reut.rs/1pJHVI5]

Since then, the oligarch has also filled his basket with stakes in Switzerland’s Schmolz+Bickenbach, pumpmaker Sulzer , coatings supplier OC Oerlikon and real-estate company Zueblin Immobilien.

While the eggs' value does not appear to have declined -- a single golden egg discovered by a junk dealer that is not in Vekselberg's collection was valued at some $20 million in 2014 [reut.rs/22HD4ow] -- his companies have combined for losses totalling nearly 700 million francs since last year.

Schmolz+Bickenbach’s 2015 report was emblematic of Vekselberg’s suffering Swiss empire that has stumbled over exposure to slumping oil and gas prices.

“Collapsing raw materials prices, comprehensive cuts in investments in the oil and gas industry and unfavourable exchange rates have really pummelled us,” Schmolz+Bickenbach Chief Executive Clemens Iller said in a statement.

Only Sulzer, Vekselberg’s largest Swiss holding at 63 percent, remained profitable in 2015, though income fell by nearly three-quarters.

Shares in Vekselberg’s companies have likewise been pummelled. In two years, the four have shed nearly 3.5 billion francs in combined market capitalisation.

Schmolz+Bickenbach’s shares, which have risen 24 percent since January, were unchanged at 0.62 francs by midday.

As losses mount, Vekselberg’s companies have swapped out management, most recently at Oerlikon, which has named former Siemens power and gas boss Roland Fischer to spearhead reorganisation.

A spokesman at the Swiss offices of Renova, Vekselberg’s Russian investment company, did not immediately return an email and phone call seeking comment. ($1 = 0.9756 Swiss francs) (Reporting by John Miller)

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