* UC RUSAL agrees $4.5 bln loan with Russian bank VEB
* Loan will repay syndicated loan to foreign lenders
* Deal will allow UC RUSAL to retain Norilsk Nickel stake
* Other Russian companies seeking similar assistance
(Repeats Wednesday story to reach more customers)
By Christopher Mangham and Robin Paxton
LONDON/MOSCOW, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Russia’s richest man, Oleg Deripaska, became the first beneficiary of a Kremlin-backed rescue package on Wednesday when his flagship company secured a $4.5 billion loan needed to keep its stake in Norilsk Nickel.
United Company RUSAL agreed the loan with state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB), entrusted with $50 billion by the Kremlin to bail out indebted Russian firms, in a deal that will repay a syndicated loan from foreign lenders, banking sources said. The loan is a welcome boost for Deripaska, who was forced to relinquish stakes in foreign companies as the global financial crisis slashed his net worth, and signals the Kremlin’s intent to retain strategic assets in the hands of trusted businessmen.
“Russia will not want this block (in Norilsk Nickel) being diluted out into other hands,” Rob Edwards, mining analyst at investment bank Renaissance Capital, said.
“It would take Russian control below 51 percent, and that’s not acceptable.”
Russian businessmen, including the oligarchs who built their billion-dollar fortunes in the chaotic 1990s, are queuing up for loans from VEB as the state-owned bank prepares to disburse the first $10 billion from its rescue package.
One of the banking sources told Reuters Loan Pricing Corp the terms of the VEB loan were agreed and the loan put into place on Wednesday. A UC RUSAL spokeswoman declined to comment.
UC RUSAL, the world’s largest aluminium producer, is owned 57 percent by Deripaska. The company used the original $4.5 billion, two-year syndicated loan to back its April acquisition of 25 percent plus two shares in Norilsk Nickel (GMKN.MM).
The borrower was facing the threat of handing over the stake in Norilsk to creditors unless it managed to refinance, a banking source told Reuters Loan Pricing Corp this month.
The source added that RUSAL had failed to agree a $1.9 billion club loan with its relationship banks because of market turmoil and had applied for a government loan from VEB.
The Russian government, through VEB, has said it is prepared to lend the $50 billion to Russian companies to refinance a total of $120 billion of Western loans before the end of 2009, as the global liquidity squeeze shuts off foreign lenders.
The money will come from the world’s third-largest gold and foreign exchange reserves, $515.7 billion as of Oct. 17. Oil companies, a major contributor to state coffers, have appealed to the government for a share of the funds as they struggle to fund ambitious capital expenditure programmes.
VTB (VTBR.MM), the country’s second-largest bank, and metals billionaire Alisher Usmanov are also among those to have said they would seek to tap the government refinancing line.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday billionaire Mikhail Fridman, whose assets span oil, telecoms and retail, had secured funds from the rescue package to pay back a $2 billion loan to foreign banks. The report was not confirmed.
The Journal said the funding would allow Fridman to avoid relinquishing his stake in mobile phone company Vimplecom VIP.N, pledged as collateral against the loan.
Deripaska was not so fortunate when facing margin calls on his stakes in Canadian auto parts maker Magna International Inc MGa.TO and German builder Hochtief (HOTG.DE). He sold them back to creditors as the value of these stakes, placed as collateral, had fallen.
UC RUSAL’s ability to retain its stake in Norilsk gives the company a strategic foothold in Russia’s premier mining asset.
When UC RUSAL bought into Norilsk, supplier of one-fifth of the world’s nickel, it declared its intent eventually to create an international metals major by combining the two companies.
Norilsk’s stock, however, has fallen 74 percent from May peaks as nickel prices have plunged, Western investors have fled Russian markets and its shareholders have publicly disagreed. (Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Richard Hubbard)