Fitch rates Russia's Gazprom Neft at 'BBB'; outlook stable

Reuters

Oct 29 (Reuters) - (The following statement was released by the rating agency)

Fitch Ratings has assigned JSC Gazprom Neft (GPN) Long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) of 'BBB', with Stable Outlook. A full list of rating actions is provided at the end of this commentary.

GPN's 'BBB' rating reflects its strong upstream and downstream operations, moderately diversified reserve base, solid operational metrics and conservative leverage, which may moderately increase from intensified upstream capex. The rating also includes the discount for corporate governance and country risks we usually apply when rating Russian corporates.

GPN is Russia's fourth largest oil producer owned by state-controlled OAO Gazprom (BBB/Stable). In 2012 the company's hydrocarbon production (excluding joint ventures) amounted to 779,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (mboe/d), of which 82% was liquids.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

Standalone 'BBB' Profile

We rate GPN on a standalone basis. Its 'BBB' rating takes into account the company's internal strengths and a two-notch discount for higher corporate governance and country risks typical for Russian corporates. We assess as strong the ties between GPN and Gazprom, its immediate parent, mainly because GPN is subject to cross-default provisions in Gazprom's eurobond documentation. This could support GPN's rating, should its standalone profile deteriorate.

Medium Scale Upstream

In 2012 GPN's hydrocarbon production amounted to 779mboe/d (excluding JVs), which Fitch classifies as 'medium' in scale and which places the company between Russia's largest oil producers, such as OAO Rosneft (BBB-/Stable) and OAO LUKOIL (BBB/Stable), on the one hand, and regional smaller producers, such as OAO Tatneft (BB+/Stable) and Joint Stock Oil Company Bashneft (BB/Positive), on the other. Globally, GPN's production level is close to that of such peers as Occidental Petroleum Corp. (A/Stable) and Apache Corporation (BBB+/Stable). The company also has stakes in a number of JVs, including most notably Slavneft and Tomskneft, which added 391mboe/d, or 50%, to its 2012 output, taking total hydrocarbon production to 1,170mboe/d.

Focus on Russian Oil

GPN's operations are concentrated on Russia, where the company now accounts for 6% of crude production (excluding JVs) - mainly in the Yamalo-Nenets and Khanti-Mansiysk regions in Western Siberia. In 2012 its operational metrics remained favourable. The company's reserve life was comfortable at 18 years and the share of proved developed reserves stayed at 54%, close to the 60%-80% range assessed by Fitch as appropriate for higher-rated oil and gas companies. GPN's production costs of USD5.7/bbl are competitive and close to those of LUKOIL. The reserve base is moderately diversified, with falling production at highly depleted fields in Yamalo-Nents (42% of total production without JVs) offset by rising output in Khanti-Mansiysk (44%) and Orenburg (3%). We believe this trend will continue in the medium term and hence assume GPN's production to remain flat.

Ambitious Upstream Target

GPN has an ambitious target of increasing its total hydrocarbon production (including JVs) to 2,000mboe/d by 2020, or by 67% compared with 2012 output. In order to achieve this GPN will need to intensify its greenfield capex programme, which will have a moderately negative impact on its medium-term leverage. The largest projects currently developed by GPN include the Novoport field in Yamal (commercial production scheduled for 2016-2019; peak at 265mbbl/d), the Orenburg assets (peak annual production planned to reach 160mbbl/d compared with 22mbbl/d in 2012) and the Prirazlomnoye offshore field, the license for which the company expects will be transferred from Gazprom in 2013 (peak at above 100mbbl/d by 2020).

The company is also involved in several JV projects (the largest of which are the Messoyakha field developed together with Rosneft and SeverEnergiya). The immediate upside from these projects with respect to the company's debt service ability may be limited, as GPN will have to coordinate the dividend policy of the JVs with its partners.

Solid Downstream Business

GPN's downstream business is well balanced with its upstream segment. The company owns two refineries in Russia, in Omsk and Moscow, with 2012 throughput of 632 thousand barrels of oil per day (mbbl/d), two small refineries in Serbia, and also holds a 50% stake in Russia's Yaroslavl refinery and a minority stake in the Mozyr refinery in Belorus. GPN also operates around 1,650 retail filling stations and is involved in aviation fuelling and bunkering business. In 2012 the downstream segment accounted for around 45% of the company's EBITDA, and we expect it to remain profitable as oil refining in Russia is favoured in the existing tax regime.

Strong Ties With Gazprom

GPN's ties with Gazprom remain strong. The company enjoys operational autonomy and management overlap is limited; however, from strategic and legal perspectives the companies are closely related. According to the parent's oil strategy, all Gazprom's oil assets are to be consolidated under GPN's umbrella - this process is now almost complete. GPN is classified as Gazprom's principal subsidiary under the latter's eurobond terms and conditions. However, Fitch does not currently factor this in GPN's rating, and instead rates the company based on its standalone profile.

Leverage to Edge Up

We expect GPN's on-balance sheet debt to increase in the next one to three years as it pursues its ambitious upstream development strategy but to remain moderate in the medium term. At end-2012 the company's net funds from operations (FFO) adjusted leverage was 0.6x, and based on Fitch's Brent price deck assumptions of USD103/bbl in 2013, USD96/bbl in 2014, USD88.5/bbl in 2015 and USD80/bbl in the long term, we expect it to average 1.5x in 2013-2017. FFO interest coverage amounted to 22x in 2012 and we expect it to average 13x over the same period.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

Positive: Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to positive rating action include:

- A positive rating action on Russia and Gazprom even if GPN's standalone profile remains unchanged. This is due to strong ties between GPN and its parent, but the upgrade would not be automatic.

Negative: Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating action include:

- A negative rating action on Russia, as the ratings of Russian oil and gas corporates are capped by that of Russia

- GPN's aggressive investment programme, acquisitions or dividends, resulting in FFO net adjusted leverage exceeding 2.5x and FFO interest coverage falling below 10x on a sustained basis, which would lead to a reassessment of GPN's standalone credit profile

- Falling crude production which could also result in a reassessment of GPN's standalone credit profile

- Material change in parent-subsidiary linkages and a weaker standalone profile

LIQUIDITY AND DEBT STRUCTURE

At 30 June 2013 the company's short term debt amounted to RUB37bn and was fully covered by a cash balance of RUB98bn.

GPN's debt portfolio is well balanced by instruments and currencies. The company has ready access to domestic and international debt markets, mitigating any refinancing risk that may result from around half of GPN's debt being due within three years. At 30 June 2013 two-thirds of its debt was denominated in USD and EUR, and a third in RUB. The debt was predominantly raised at the level of JSC Gazprom Neft, and the share of secured debt was only around 15% - hence no subordination issues.

JSC Gazprom Neft

Long-term foreign and local currency IDRs assigned at 'BBB'; Outlook Stable

National Long-term rating assigned at 'AA+(rus)'; Outlook Stable

Short-term foreign currency IDR assigned at 'F3'

Senior unsecured rating assigned at 'BBB'

GPN Capital S.A.

Senior unsecured rating assigned at 'BBB'

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