Government considers selling $3 billion stake in ONGC

NEW DELHI Tue Jul 15, 2014 4:29pm IST

1 of 2. A technician opens a pressure gas valve inside the Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) group gathering station on the outskirts of Ahmedabad March 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave/Files

Related Topics

Stocks

   

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government will decide next month on the sale of a $3 billion stake in state oil firm Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC.NS), in a major test of whether he can follow through on reforms outlined in his first budget.

Modi won May's parliamentary election by a landslide with a pledge to create jobs and revive Asia's No.3 economy, which is suffering from weak growth and high inflation.

Yet Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's maiden budget last week drew criticism that his fiscal arithmetic did not add up. Capitalising on a record-breaking stock market run to complete asset sales could help him balance the books.

The government will decide in August whether to sell a 5 percent stake in ONGC, a senior oil ministry official said, in a deal that would be worth $2.9 billion at current market prices.

"The department of divestment has floated a note seeking our comments for a 5 per cent stake sale in ONGC," the official, who has direct knowledge of the matter, told Reuters on Tuesday.

An official at the finance ministry, home to the divestment department, said the government was interested in selling stakes in ONGC and other state companies given their high market valuations. He did not elaborate.

If completed, the sale would raise more than a quarter of the $10.5 billion target for asset sales announced by Jaitley for the fiscal year to March 2015.

He will need to hit or exceed that figure to cap the budget deficit at 4.1 percent of gross domestic product, a goal set by his predecessor that he has vowed to uphold.

REVENUE GENERATOR

The proposal to sell a 5 percent stake follows reports that the government may sell a stake of as much as 10 percent in ONGC, which produces the equivalent of 1.2 million barrels per day, or two-thirds of India's oil and gas.

The state directly owns 69 percent of ONGC, while further stakes are owned by the state-run Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) (7.8 percent), Indian Oil Corp (IOC.NS) (7.7 percent) and Gas Authority of India (GAIL.NS) (2.4 percent).

ONGC, with a market value of $57 billion, has struggled for years with stagnant production and a lack of commercially viable discoveries. It is burdened by a subsidy regime that forces it to sell oil and gas cheaply.

Still, even without wholesale restructuring, some analysts back the stock on expectations that the government will replace the existing, ad hoc, regime for sharing the burden of energy subsidies with a more predictable model.

"The objective is not to privatise; just to contain the fiscal deficit," said Dayanand Mittal, an oil analyst at Ambit Capital in Mumbai who has a 'buy' rating on ONGC stock with a price target of 500 rupees.

"Don't expect restructuring - what you can expect are measures to improve efficiency and reduce India's oil import dependence," added Mittal. He forecasts that ONGC will receive $58 per barrel of oil it sells in 2014/15, a 40 percent gain.

SHARES OUTPERFORM

ONGC shares ended up 2.5 percent at 412.65 rupees, against a 0.9 percent rise in the BSE Sensex. The shares have rallied by 43 percent in the current year to date, joining other state-controlled enterprises in outperforming a 19.1 percent gain in the Sensex.

"They have to bring in more clarity on gas pricing and subsidies before selling a stake to institutional investors," said Phani Sekhar, a fund manager at Angel Broking in Mumbai.

"Budget estimates would be achieved easily if it goes through. Even if there is lack of demand there is always LIC to support,” said Sekhar.

The state insurer's backing was critical to the success of the sale by the previous government of a 5 percent stake in ONGC in 2012 that raised 127 billion Indian rupees ($2.1 billion).

Over the last two years, the previous government also reduced its stake in Indian Oil, the country's top oil refiner, Engineers India Ltd (ENGI.NS) and Oil India Ltd (OILI.NS).

The Modi government's sell-off drive is set to kick off with the offering of a 5 percent stake in Steel Authority of India (SAIL.NS), worth $290 million based on market prices, say sources familiar with the transaction.

Other deals are expected to follow a similar pattern of incremental, revenue-raising sales that do not jeopardise state control. On the slate are Coal India (COAL.NS), the world's top producer, and firms involved in power, aerospace and metallurgy, a senior government source said recently.

($1 = 60.1000 rupees)

(Additional reporting by Manoj Kumar in New Delhi and Abhishek Vishnoi in Mumbai; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

Economic Pulse

REUTERS SHOWCASE

NSEL Fraud

NSEL Fraud

Govt orders Financial Tech to absorb NSEL, liabilities  Full Article 

Stalemate

Stalemate

WTO prepares for crisis talks as India keeps veto on global deal.  Full Article 

Deal Talk

Deal Talk

Smartphone repair company B2X steps up expansion with Indian deal.  Full Article 

Earnings Season

Earnings Season

HDFC Bank eyes pickup in corporate credit.  Full Article 

JLR China

JLR China

JLR sees 20 percent growth in China sales this year - exec  Full Article 

Iron Ore Imports

Iron Ore Imports

JSW Steel to boost iron ore imports by up to 80 percent.  Full Article 

Pollution Levels

Pollution Levels

Delhi braces for worst air quality this Diwali week.  Full Article 

Remembering Margerie

Remembering Margerie

Total’s "Big Moustache"- bon vivant, deal-maker and risk-taker .  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage