Prosperity Adds More Gazprom as Putin Pushes Improvement

Prosperity Capital Management Ltd., whose Russia fund beat 97 percent of peers in the past year, bought more shares of OAO Gazprom on prospects Russia will push its gas export monopoly to be more efficient.

“The government is putting a lot of pressure on Gazprom to operate in a more transparent and efficient way and the company is turning around,” Mattias Westman, who helps oversee about $4 billion in Russian assets as chief executive officer of Prosperity in London, said by phone yesterday. “It’s a good investment longer term, especially as valuations are very low and attractive.”

Gazprom, the world’s biggest natural gas producer, has slumped 37 percent over the past two years to trade at 2.7 times earnings, the cheapest stock on Russia’s Micex Index, as the euro-zone recession cut demand from its top customer. President Vladimir Putin urged the company, Russia’s largest, to improve its performance and boost corporate governance in a Feb. 21 speech at Gazprom’s 20th anniversary gala.

American depositary receipts of Gazprom fell 0.3 percent to $8.69 by 11:56 a.m. in New York, as the Bloomberg Russia-US Equity Index of the most-traded Russian companies in the U.S. traded little changed at 101.89. Gazprom dropped 1.1 percent on the 50-stock Micex, to 133.65 rubles, or $4.35. One depositary receipt equals two shares.

Prosperity, based in London, didn’t hold Gazprom stock for “about 10 years and added it to the portfolio relatively recently, investing mostly in the Moscow-listed stock,” said Westman, a founding partner. The firm bought shares of Gazprom in 2010 for the first time in 13 years, Westman said in November of that year. They bought more stock toward the end of 2012 and this year, he said today.

Government Control

The Prosperity Russia Domestic Fund returned 8.7 percent in the past year and 7.5 percent in 2013, beating 91 percent of its peers in that period, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Russia’s government owns just more than 50 percent of Gazprom, data compiled by Bloomberg show, and gets about 50 percent of budget revenue from oil and gas.

Gazprom probably overshot its plan for capital spending by $4 billion in 2012 after a “very intensive” fourth quarter pushed annual expenditure by as much as $44 billion, Chief Financial Officer Andrey Kruglov said in a Jan. 17 earnings conference call.

To maintain its dominance over natural gas exports, Gazprom needs to react quickly to changes on global markets and be able to negotiate effectively with its partners, Putin said in last month’s address. “It is imperative to consistently eliminate anything that is dragging the company down,” he said.

Top Pick

Shares of Gazprom may surge 30 percent if the government decides to split the company into production and transport units or revamp its management, according to Elena Loven, who helps manage more than 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in Russian stocks at Swedbank Robur, Sweden’s second-largest lender.

The stock is one of Loven’s top picks over the next 10 years, though Swedbank Robur has recently been underweight Gazprom, she said in a March 5 interview in Moscow. The Swedbank Robur Rysslandsfond, which invests in Russian equities, has lost 12 percent over the past year and 0.3 percent in 2013, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Gazprom plans to sell bonds in euros for the first time since July, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified as the details aren’t public.

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