Russia’s back on structured trade and commodity financiers” (STCF) lips and the two companies taking up most of the discussion are Yukos and Sibneft. According to one source, the bank group raising Yukos’s latest loan comprises a litany of active players in the STCF market. These have been facing almost daily negative media reports, share price declines and credit rating downgrades in Russia. Combined with the ‘Parmalat factor’, believes the source, the lenders “with security of any sort over receivables are having to explain in increasing detail how STCF is different from the sort of thing Parmalat were doing with the corporate bankers – the Yukos affair has cast quite a shadow over the Russian Front”.

Yukos and their STCF bankers are said to have recently met in Paris, chaired by agent Société Gén érale. “The Yukos management, whose experience of pre-export finance is, to put it kindly, perhaps less than their experience of the bond market (and they haven’t done any bonds recently either) reportedly struggled to master the concept that commercial lenders require rather greater access to information than the capital markets do,” says one banker involved “A particular bone of contention was an announcement by the company that not only have they started paying the US$2bn dividend already announced to shareholders, despite all the political pressure, and on top of that that they might actually decide on an additional ‘final’ dividend as well.”

Banks reportedly insisted on knowing more about the company’s cash position. A senior Yukos member of the team was then alleged to have allegorised that when you take out a mortgage, and then get run over by a bus, you don’t expect your mortgage lender coming round straight away asking for your medical records. Perhaps not, bankers responded, but equally you don’t pick that moment to start sending all your money to your mum either.

In action which was perhaps unrelated, Yukos has now announced that it is cancelling further payments of dividend. Also it will re-route oil contracts to avoid the so-called internal tax havens within Russia, and will re-start negotiations with Sibneft. “These moves appear to be aimed at allaying concerns of lenders, the taxman and shareholders, though perhaps not necessarily in that order,” comments another involved source. Lenders stress that they remain confident of Yukos’ continued performance. It is just that they prefer to hear news direct from the borrower rather than getting it first from the media. In Yukos’s defence, they also get a large part of their information about the various pressure actions against them also from the media, for allegedly very little of it is actually notified formally to the company, whereas large parts of it turn out to be pure press speculation. “Any coincidence with upcoming Russian elections in March is of course purely incidental,” adds the source.

ABN Amro meanwhile has been said to have offered to underwrite US$500mn of prefinancing to Sibneft. Citibank has offered to join in with another US$500mn, fully underwritten for five years, reportedly at Libor + 2.4% per year – some distance above the Yukos margin.

One banker comments that “if repayment by Sibneft of the Yukos acquisition can be linked to repayment by Yukos of the Yukos STF loan, then maybe ABN and Citibank will find more of the Yukos congregation joining their deal”.