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Leave Russia or stay? Tough decisions for businesses

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(Paris) Some foreign companies are beginning to announce their withdrawal from Russia, a movement initiated by the oil sector, but for many groups present in the country it seems difficult to repatriate factories or supermarkets overnight.

Sunday, on the fourth day of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, the British oil company BP announced that it was disengaging from the Russian giant Rosneft, in which it holds a 19.75% stake, denouncing “an act of aggression which tragic consequences across the region”.


PHOTO SERGEI KARPUKHIN, REUTERS

An employee fills the tank of a car at a BP gas station in Moscow, Russia, July 4, 2016. The sign reads ‘Thank you for choosing us! “. BP announced that it was disengaging from the Russian giant Rosneft, in which it holds a 19.75% stake.

Among those following in his footsteps, his compatriot Shell indicated on Monday that it was parting with its shares in several joint projects with the Russian group Gazprom in Russia, in particular its participation in the Sakhalin-2 gas project in the Russian Far East. .

Their Norwegian competitor Equinor announced the end of its investments in Russia and its withdrawal from its joint ventures in the country. Equinor is 67% controlled by the Norwegian state, whose sovereign fund will also freeze its investments in Russia.

The world’s leading manufacturer of heavy goods vehicles, the German Daimler Truck, for its part, suspended “until further notice” its activities in Russia, including cooperation “of a civil nature” with the truck producer Kamaz which also supplies Russian army.

Despite everything, “it is very difficult for any company with an activity in Russia to leave now”, summarizes for AFP Guntram Wolff, director of the Brussels think tank Bruegel.

“Already because the Russian central bank prohibits the sale of financial assets, and also because even if these sales were authorized, the ruble has lost its value so much that the losses would be enormous”, he points out.

Several analysts agree that it will be difficult for BP to sell its shares at their real value ($14 billion at the end of 2021). The group has also warned that it will record a charge in its accounts for the first quarter of 2022, which will be published in May.

“For many companies, the question of leaving does not arise, they are stuck because they have significant assets and assets in Russia which are not at all liquid”, production sites for example which they cannot not close or resell “overnight”, adds Sébastien Jean, director of the Center for Prospective Studies and International Information.

Minute-by-minute tracking

The war in Ukraine and the heavy sanctions imposed on Russia by Western countries are plunging foreign groups “into great uncertainty about what will be the evolution of the Russian economy in the months to come, and also about what will be the sanctions in return from the Russians, many may fear seizures of some of their assets or expropriations”, underlines Sébastien Jean.

Among the most exposed sectors is energy. The Austrian oil and gas group OMV, which notably owns 24.99% of a gas field in Siberia and which co-finances the Nord Stream II gas pipeline, told AFP “constantly assess the situation to take possible measures if necessary” .

“For the moment, the sector is not under sanctions because of its importance in the energy supply, but we are following this and the decisions that can be taken”, declared Monday on BFM Business the general manager of the nuclear group. French Orano, Philippe Knoche. Russia represents “2% of our trade, so it remains an extremely limited impact,” he said.

With 30,000 employees, 240 stores and 3.2 billion euros in turnover in Russia, the French distributor Auchan also says that it is following “this file minute by minute”. Just like the local teams of the French agri-food giant Danone (5% of income generated in Russia, around 8,000 employees), which “Obviously follows the situation closely and puts in place all the necessary actions to ensure the safety of its employees and the continuity of its activities”.

The Danish brewer Carlsberg, 8,400 employees in Russia, interviewed by AFP, said to continue its operations in Russia “in compliance with the sanctions put in place”.

However, the Russian market “is not large enough for it to be a structural danger for many companies”, relativizes Sébastien Jean.



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