January 21, 2020 / 10:56 AM / a month ago

Russia's Mechel keeps options open on Elga coal mine stake

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian steel and coal producer Mechel (MTLR.MM) said it did not take up an option to buy back a stake in its Elga coal mine by a deadline on Monday as it had received an alternative offer.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Russian gas giant Gazprom is seen on a board at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Mechel, which is in talks with its creditors about restructuring $6 billion in loans, did not give details about the new offer.

It sold a 49% stake in the Elga project in Russia’s far east, its biggest asset, to Gazprombank (GZPRI.MM), one of its main creditors, in 2016 as part of a debt restructuring process.

The mine holds one of the world’s largest coking coal deposits with reserves of 2.2 billion tonnes and Mechel, controlled by businessman Igor Zyuzin, was granted a pre-emptive right by Gazprombank to buy a 34% stake back before a deadline that expired on Monday.

This was valued at about 30 billion roubles ($487 million) at the time, sources said.

Gazprombank said on Tuesday that Mechel had failed to exercise this pre-emptive right in time, adding the bank would consider options for further action.

A representative of Mechel said the company needed more time to study the alternative offer it had received, but provided no further details.

Analysts at BCS Global Markets said Mechel’s decision was expected, given market rumours it could sell its remaining 51% stake in Elga as well.

“This would not materially improve net debt and would mean Mechel would lose its core growth asset,” BCS analysts wrote.

Last year, the bank received a surprise offer for its Elga holdings from investor Albert Avdolyan and his A-Property group, which prompted the bank to offer Mechel the pre-emptive right that expired on Monday. A-Property declined to comment on whether it had made the renewed offer to Mechel.

“We are ready to consider the possibility of restructuring Mechel’s current debts in light of a strategic investor entering the project,” a source at Gazprombank said, adding the bank was counting on the support of VTB (VTBR.MM), Mechel’s other main creditor, on the matter.

VTB declined to comment.

Last year, Russian newspaper Vedomosti cited sources as saying that Mechel’s creditors had begun discussing the Elga project with potential buyers.

The state-owned Rostec corporation and Russian coal producers VostokCoal and CoalStar were named as potential buyers by Vedomosti.

Rostec said it had not made an offer to participate in the Elga project. A representative of CoalStar owner Eduard Khudainatov declined to comment. A spokeswoman at VostokCoal was not immediately available for comment.

Reporting by Tatiana Voronova and Anastasia Lyrchikova; Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Polina Ivanova and Maria Kiselyova; editing by Clarence Fernandez/ Jason Neely/Susan Fenton

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