The government has decided after all to postpone the sale of a package in VTB to private hands. The decision was not a surprise: that privatization can be postponed was said in the Cabinet, such an option was also supported by the head of the State Bank, Andrey Kostin. Formally, the sale is delayed because of the sanctions. But it is felt that there is another reason, which may be associated with the personal interests of the powerful banker Kostin.
When you can't and don't want
Government has behaved a little strange. In early February, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev approved a privatization plan for 2017-2019. And there's in black and white: "VTB Bank (PJSC) (25 percent plus 1 share of the total number of ordinary registered shares)". But a week passed, and different statements are heard. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said that the privatization of VTB has been already postponed. That issue will be brough back to the table when the Western sanctions will be removed from the bank. Because then the package can be sold more expensive. Earlier, a similar statement was made by the first vice-premier Igor Shuvalov. At first glance, the words of officials seem to be correct and logical. But only at first. In fact, the government decided to sell VTB and immediately canceled it.
Sanctions can be someday removed, but when it will happen - no one knows. Current sectoral restrictions are valid until the end of July this year. To cancel them before, some extraordinary event should occur, for which there's a very little chance. It is unlikely that they will be canceled and most likely will be extended again. But even if the sanctions are removed, it would take time to prepare for privatization. And then come the elections, and the authorities will have little time for privatization. And if oil prices rise and the budget will be able to cope without the revenues from the sale of assets, it can be lightly postponed again and again. Such a course of events is exemplified by the experience of past years. After all, the state was repeatedly going to cut to a minimum stake in VTB, but failed to say good-bye to its shares.
Please buy a bank, it's large and profitable
Let us recall the landmark intentions of the government, which in the summer of 2012 approved a new privatization plan until 2016. VTB, where the Federal Property Management Agency had a share 75.5%, was to be completely sold. Ah, what brave, beautiful plans Dmitry Medvedev had, who at that time just entered the post of prime minister. As a result, they broke down. Partly because of the crisis. But it's not just it, all state-owned companies are reluctant to allow their owner to privatize them, and VTB is no exception. At the moment, the state has 60.9% in the bank. And if, according to a new plan, Roismuschestvo will only have a blocking stake, then, in reality, at best, the share will be brought to 50%. Actually all public discussions are related to the sale of 10.9%.
Sanctions and the fear of a bad bargain are, of course, important arguments. But remember, in the past year ALROSA and Rosneft were privatized. Quite successfully, and the state received more or less the money it actually wanted. If an asset is worthy, then it will always find its buyers, which will offer a good price. Investors are very pragmatic. If the company is profitable and its stock goes up, sanctions will not stop anybody. Revenues of VTB fell sharply since the beginning of the crisis. But last year the bank as if recovered from the turmoil, its profits grew. And it's really a powerful argument for the buyers. Moreover, Andrey Kostin at a recent forum in Davos, although said that it was necessary to wait for cancellation or easing of sanctions, but also added that the improved financial performance would make the deal possible. However, Kostin recently rattled a lot of things, and his words can result in certain conclusions.
He said "do not go"
In fact, privatization is carried out not only in order to supplement the budget. And in the case of VTB, not so much so. The package that the government is going to sell, can bring about 100 billion rubles. The sum, of course, is great, but not so significant for the Russian budget. For example, this year the pensioners were paid 5000 rubles, that required 200 billion, that is 2 times more than the potential profits from the sale of shares of VTB. The second main goal of privatization is to improve the management of the company. So that it would grow up, earn, pay more taxes and successfully cooperate with the citizens. And for such a purpose private owners are usually better.
But Andrey Kostin recently made it clear who's boss, saying that in terms of managing the sale of the package in VTB will not change anything. Then, indeed, the privatization lost its meaning permanently. Another banker's statement can lead to a conclusion about who may have said the most weighty word, which decided the fate of VTB. A full quote deserves attention:
"Under the current circumstances, with the sanctions in place, to conduct the privatization of VTB resembled Mission Impossible part 6. I'd prefer to wait for the removal of the sanctions."
"I" there can hardly be noticed at once: so the decision might have been made not by the bank's owner, but by its hired manager! However, for Mr. Kostin it is a suitable phrase.
On horses and streams
But there are suspicions, that the point is not only in the character of the top manager. Recently the media informed that Andrey Kostin might leave his office. It was allegedly part of the campaign to bring young blood to the state management. In view of this, the delayed privatization might be regarded as Kostin's attempt to cling to his post. Because all statements of the banker might be interpreted as "sanctions are not lifted, the enemy is relentless, no new owners must be let into the state bank, it's better to leave everything as it is". And it has an air of such confidence and reliability, that one could only wish to hide behind the solid back of the banker.