Russian Magnates Set to Battle Over State Port Sales: Freight

Russian Billionaire Vladimir Lisin
To meet its goal of creating a coast-to-coast network stretching more than 4,000 miles, Summa may have to outbid billionaire Vladimir Lisin’s UCL Holdings. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Summa Group, owner of Russian ports and a Rotterdam oil terminal, is spending $1.4 billion to buy a stake in Fesco Group, a Pacific port and ship operator, to form a Eurasian freight network and challenge Suez Canal shipping.

Russia’s rail transit may surge as electronic customs clearance is introduced and dispatching improved, Summa says. Asia-Europe seaborne traffic reached 13.5 million containers in 2011, a $12.2 billion market, Drewry Maritime Research says. Russia carried 101,500 containers between Europe and Asia last year, according to Moscow-based Infranews, a research institute.

“Serious freight flows are possible in a market that is not very developed currently,” Mikhail Ganelin, an analyst at Troika Dialog in Moscow, said by telephone. Troika rates Fesco a buy. “Summa wants to create a dominant transportation holding on the foundation of ports and rail operators that can ship cargo between Europe and Asia.”

Moscow-based Summa, controlled by Chairman Ziyavudin Magomedov, agreed to buy 56 percent of Fesco from majority owner Sergey Generalov, two people with knowledge of the matter said May 18. Fesco shares have climbed 8.2 percent since then.

Summa bought 10 percent of Fesco from the shipper’s treasury shares last week, kicking off the potential $1.4 billion deal, and may purchase another 3 percent soon, the people said last week, declining to be identified before the transaction was completed.

To meet its goal of creating a coast-to-coast network stretching more than 4,000 miles, Summa may have to outbid billionaire Vladimir Lisin’s UCL Holdings. They are vying for OAO Transcontainer, now 21 percent owned by Fesco. The acquisition also faces resistance from the container operator’s majority owner, state-run OAO Russian Railways.

Expansion Plan

“The deal fits into Summa’s aggressive expansion in Russia’s transport space and its long-term strategy,” Ganelin said. Summa and Vladivostok-based Fesco declined to comment on the acquisition. The Fesco deal will give Summa one-fifth of Transcontainer, which handles more than half of Russia’s container traffic.

Shares of Moscow-based Transcontainer have risen 18 percent since the May 17 close, increasing its value to $1.3 billion. Fesco’s market value has reached about $850 million. The European Bank for Reconstruction & Development holds 3.8 percent of Fesco.

Medvedev Ties

Summa may be aided by what Elena Sakhnova, an analyst at VTB Capital, characterized as close ties to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Chairman Magomedov and Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, a former Medvedev aide who is in charge of transportation and energy, graduated from the same department at Moscow State University in 1994.

“Summa has a strong team that is able to realize good projects,” Sakhnova said. “It’s possible they’ve received a certain amount of support from the country’s leadership.”

Still, European importers will continue to rely on ships in part because rail gauge differences and border crossings mean cargo has to be transferred to as many as two different chassis, according to Drewry analysts led by Neil Dekker.

Russia ranked between Guinea-Bissau and Lebanon in a World Bank survey of transportation and logistics capacity in May, coming in 95th of 155 countries.

“With the probability of delays on rail, the attractiveness of such a route decreases,” Dekker said in e-mailed comments. “Container shipping offers far superior capacity and economies of scale, very competitive rates and its reliability is constantly improving.”

Buying Back?

In addition, Lisin’s UCL Holding, Russia’s biggest non-state rail operator, and N-Trans Group, which includes London-listed Globaltrans Investment Plc, have shown interest in Transcontainer.

In addition, UCL Holding is also prepared to pay Russian Railways 45 billion rubles for the 25 percent of cargo carrier Freight One that it doesn’t already own, Freight One CEO Oleg Bukin said yesterday in Sochi, Russia.

Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin said his company is considering buying back Fesco’s stake in Transcontainer to counter Summa’s expansion, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported May 21. That would run counter to the state’s plan to sell off assets.

Should the deal go through as planned, Summa will come away with control over domestic container traffic from the Pacific port of Vladivostok, which Fesco owns. Revenue from it and from operating the terminal probably will benefit Summa even without a surge in transit volumes, Drewry says.

‘This Vast Country’

The main rail line “is far more competitive for Russian cargo, moving from the Far East to central and western regions of this vast country,” Dekker said. “We see these volumes growing and utilization of the Trans-Siberian increasing steadily.”

The domestic market amounted to 2.8 million containers in 2011, according to Russian Railways, the rail monopoly.

Summa’s ambitions stretch beyond containers and Russia. It is investing in a $1 billion project to build an oil terminal in Rotterdam and is considering the construction of a container port near Beijing, Russian business daily Vedomosti reported in March, citing Rotterdam Port Chief Executive Officer Hans Smits.

Within Russia, Summa and state-owned trader United Grain Co. have started construction of a transshipment terminal in Russia’s Far East. The group may bid for Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, according to Vedomosti, and the state’s 20 percent stake in the Novorossiysk port, Summa President Alexander Vinokurov said by e-mail on April 16. Summa was recommended as the winning bidder for almost half of United Grain this week, pending state approval.

Summa, together with Russia’s oil pipeline monopoly OAO Transneft, owns a controlling stake in the Novorossiysk port on the Black Sea and Primorsk on the Baltic.

Ownership of Fesco and thus its 21 percent stake in Transcontainer may give Summa the advantage in the planned sale of another 25 percent to 50 percent of Transcontainer, said Andrey Rozhkov, an analyst at IFC Metropol in Moscow.

“By buying a stake in Fesco, Summa has neutralized any strong competition for Transcontainer that could have bid up the price during an auction,” Rozhkov said.

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