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03-05-2012 13:02:00

Novatek Shares Pressured By Gas Tax, But Some See Future Benefits

By Alexander Kolyandr

Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

MOSCOW -(Dow Jones)- Shares in Novatek (NVTK.RS), Russia's largest independent natural gas producer, fell 4% early Thursday, extending losses to more than 12% in just two days on the back of the country's new tax regime for gas companies, but analysts are considering whether the tax rise will have benefits.

As President-elect Vladimir Putin seeks ways to fund a new wave of social spending promised during his election campaign without further straining the country's overstretched budget, Russia's government late Wednesday approved gradual mineral extraction tax rises for gas companies till 2015.

While the doubling of tax for state-controlled OAO Gazprom (GAZP.RS) had been broadly expected, and pushed the company's stock down only slightly, Novatek's tax rise is to be much faster and was generally unexpected. Novatek, which is paying lower extraction tax now, will face an almost four-times tax increase in three years, taking it to Gazprom's level.

Analysts estimate Novatek's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, or Ebitda, will drop by between 10% and 20% in 2015 due to the tax rise. Brokerages lowered the company's target price and some of them cut recommendation on the stock.

"In the short term we expect Novatek's stock to continue to be under the pressure," said VTB Capital, which has a buy recommendation on the stock.

However, the leveling of taxes for Gazprom and independent producers may open up the lucrative export market to the latter.

"The question is highly political, but independents now have a very strong argument against Gazprom's export monopoly," UralSib bank notes.

The effect of the higher taxes may also be partly mitigated by a possible rise in domestic gas prices, which remain regulated by the government.

"The Russian government appears to be doing what it always does: penalizing the Russian consumer via higher gas prices and penalizing producers by raising taxes," Troika Dialog said.

Shares in Novatek bounced back Thursday and were up 0.4%, at RUB342.00, as of 1042 GMT.

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 03, 2012 07:02 ET (11:02 GMT)

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

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