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02-05-2012 15:47:00

UPDATE: Russian Government Approves Gas Tax Rise

(Rewrite throughout with details, share movements, analysts' comments)

By Ira Iosebashvili and Alexander Kolyandr

Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

MOSCOW -(Dow Jones)- Russia's government Wednesday approved tax rises nearly doubling rates for state-controlled natural gas giant OAO Gazprom (GAZP.RS) and more than quadrupling duties to be paid by the country's independent producers by 2015, a move analysts said may weigh on stock prices in the gas sector.

President-elect Vladimir Putin is seeking ways to fund a new wave of social spending promised during his election campaign without further straining the country's overstretched budget. Russia's budget now balances at an estimated $117 per barrel, from as low as $50 per barrel in 2008.

Taxes for Gazprom, the world's largest gas producer, will be raised twice per year to reach 1,062 rubles per 1,000 cubic meters on July 1, 2015, from RUB509 per 1,000 cubic meters today, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov told journalists after a government meeting. Duties paid by independent producers will rise to RUB1,049 per 1,000 cubic meters, he said.

Gazprom has asked the government to further raise gas prices for consumers, arguing that most of the 15% increase planned for next year will be offset by a subsequent increase in the mineral extraction tax. Putin, however, has thwarted the company's requests, urging it to find new ways to cut costs.

While raising taxes for the gas producers may fill up government coffers, it may not be so kind to share prices in the sector, analysts said.

"Gas stocks may continue to get dogged by the tax uncertainty," Troika Dialog analysts said in a note to clients.

Shares in Gazprom were unaffected by the news Wednesday, as the tax rise had been anticipated for some time, and papers in the company suffered in April when the changes were proposed by Putin.

However, shares in Novatek (NVTK.RS), the country's largest independent gas producer lost 8%, as analysts expect the company's profitability to suffer significantly by the tax rise, and consider the news negative for the stock.

According to Renaissance Capital's calculations Novatek's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or Ebitda may decline by a quarter in 2015 under the new tax regime, compared to the one under the old taxes. Gazprom's Ebitda is expected to decline by up to 7%. A possible rise in domestic gas tariffs will partly compensate the loss, the bank added.

Taxes will likely not rise in Russia's non-commodities sector in the near term, Shatalov said.

A planned luxury tax was voted down, but the government will introduce a special tax for owners of automobiles with engines more powerful than 410 horsepower or owners of "elite" real estate, Shatalov said.

-By Ira Iosebashvili and Alexander Kolyandr, Dow Jones Newswires; +7 495 232-9192 alexander.kolyandr@dowjones.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 02, 2012 09:47 ET (13:47 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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