Russia's VTB eyes stake in grain trader Mirogroup: sources

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian state-controlled bank VTB, which has been actively buying grain export infrastructure assets, is preparing to buy a stake in major local grain trader Mirogroup, a source familiar with the talks and a grain industry source said.

FILE PHOTO: Logos are on display outside a branch of VTB bank in Moscow, Russia May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Mirogroup and VTB “are organizing joint work based on VTB’s infrastructure assets”, said the source familiar with the talks on Saturday.

VTB and Mirogroup declined to comment.

Russia is the world’s largest wheat exporter and the expansion of VTB, the country’s second-largest lender, in grain export infrastructure in recent months has been seen by some traders as a sign of the Russian government tightening the grip over the sector.

The bank itself has said it sees the possibility of working with the government to expand Russia’s grain export potential.

It currently owns stakes in two grain export terminals in the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk and has said it is in talks to buy a stake in another terminal in the Black Sea port of Taman.

Earlier this week, VTB said it had bought a controlling stake in Russia’s largest grain rail-wagon owner Rustranscom (RTC).

“The state-owned bank becomes the largest grain infrastructure owner in Russia,” agriculture consultancy SovEcon said about VTB’s latest move.

Mirogroup exported 2 million tonnes of grain in the previous marketing season, while some market players expect VTB to plan for a grain export program of 6 million tonnes in the new season, which starts on July 1, SovEcon said.

This would bring VTB to the top of Russia’s grain trade league. The current leader, TD Rif, handles between 6 and 7 million tonnes of grain per season, SovEcon added.

Reporting by Polina Devitt and Gleb Stolyarov Additional reporting by Tanya Voronova; Editing by Kevin Liffey and David Holmes