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Russian ‘nickel king’ negotiating $60bn deal as sanctions hit metals empire

·2 min read
Vladimir Potanin
Vladimir Potanin

Russia's sanction hit "nickel king" is trying to shore up his metals empire as the threat of international boycotts make business increasingly difficult.

Norilsk Nickel, headed by Russia's second richest man Vladimir Potanin, has opened talks about a possible $60bn merger with rival Rusal as sanctions take their toll on both companies.

Mr Potanin, who was last week sanctioned by the UK, controls about 35pc of Norilsk and said the deal could create a Russian industrial metals “champion”. He added that the deal could provide “extra stability against sanctions”.

He told Russian media: “The latest offer we got from Rusal was to discuss the merger of Norilsk Nickel and Rusal. We have reconsidered the idea . . . because this allows [us] to create a national champion.”

The billionaire, worth an estimated $34bn according to Bloomberg, has led Norilsk since striking a 2012 shareholder accord with aluminium producer Rusal, the company’s second-largest investor.

Mr Potanin said Norilsk was not under sanctions despite the measures imposed against him by the British government. The billionaire also said he wouldn't step down as chief executive.

Around 20pc of the world's nickel comes from Russia, with nearly all of that from Norilsk. The company also produces around 40pc of the world's palladium, which is used in anti-pollution devices in cars.

Speaking to Russia’s RBC TV on Tuesday, Mr Potanin said: “We received the proposal from the management of Rusal to discuss the merger with Norilsk Nickel as an alternative to extending the shareholder agreement.

“I sent a letter in which I confirmed our agreement to start the process of discussing a merger with Rusal.”

The idea of merging the two Russian metals giants dates back to 2008, when billionaire Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal purchased a stake in Norilsk.

Mr Potanin previously didn’t support the idea, saying in 2017: “There is no synergy between two companies.”

Analysts still believe a merger remains unlikely, despite the fact that it could better position both companies to withstand the impact of western sanctions following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kirill Chuyko, an analyst at BCS Global Markets, said: “The national champion idea may be seen as an additional guarantee against the sanctions, but still it is not possible to be fully safeguarded this way.

“The parties have a long and extremely difficult history of relations, while business-wise the merger still makes no sense.”