(Corrects amount of debt that could be raised in final paragraph to $1 billion instead of $10 billion)
* Drilling four deep oil wells, sees as non-core
* To make decision on oil unit’s future in 12-15 months
* Sees no signs Kazakh govt will impose copper export duty
* All options still open for 26 pct stake in ENRC
(Adds more details, quotes)
By Eric Onstad
LONDON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Kazakh copper producer Kazakhmys (KAZ.L) is considering spinning off, selling or finding a partner for its petroleum division once it gets enough exploration data over the next year or so, a top official said.
Chief Financial Officer Matthew Hird also told Reuters that it did not appear that the Kazakh government would impose an export duty on copper as investors had feared.
London-listed Kazakhmys has been drilling four deep oil wells, but it would cost too much to fully develop them to production, Hird said in an interview late on Monday. “Petroleum is not core,” he said, adding that a variety of options were being considered for the unit.
One of those would be to spin it out to shareholders and offer a cash alternative to those investors not interested in a petroleum investment. Other alternatives would be an outright sale or to find an oil company as a partner to develop the wells.
A decision would be taken in 12-15 months when the exploration programme in western Kazakhstan has enough data to fully value the wells, Hird added.
Kazakhmys, the world’s 10th-biggest copper producer, acquired exploration rights to 600 square kilometres of ground in the Akzhar field and has been drilling four wells and has seen good results so far.
Hydrocarbons have been identified at the first and third wells and tests on the latter have shown a steady flow. More testing work needs to be done on the second well and the fourth well is still being drilled.
Hird said investors need not be worried about the influence of the Kazakh government after Chairman Vladimir Kim sold nearly a third of his stake to a state-run investment group, which boosted the government’s stake in the firm to 26 percent from 15 percent. [ID:nLDE6940EW]
“The day-to-day management will remain unchanged. They have a seat on the board, we will clearly consult with the government because they’re a shareholder, but nothing really changes,” he said.
“If you’re going to be a successful miner in a particular country, you have to have good relations with the government, it just doesn’t work otherwise. We already have good relationships with the government.”
The Kazakh government is aware of the need to attract foreign investment and it will not take steps that would scare away other potential companies, he added.
At the moment, it does not appear that the government will follow Russia’s lead and impose an export tax on copper, Hird said.
“The tax legislation is going through parliament at the moment and at the current stage we don’t see any signs that an export duty will be imposed for 2011, 2012. We can’t rule it out, but we’re hopeful that it won’t be there.”
The company is aware of analysts’ and investors’ concerns that its huge 26 percent stake in rival Kazakh miner ENRC ENRC.L makes it hard to value Kazakhmys since the value of ENRC makes up about half of its market value.
“We’re not an investment house...we like to own assets, we like to control assets,” he said.
Because it was such an important issue, the company would not be pressured to move too quickly and would primarily focus on creating value for shareholders.
All options for the stake were still being considered, including a merger with ENRC, although that was now much less likely since the two companies’ paths have diverged, he said.
ENRC has been on a takeover spree, expanding into other emerging markets such as Africa and South America, while Kazakhmys wants to focus on Central Asia.
”All options remain valid on the table and we look at all of them. The businesses can come together in some form of arrangement, although that’s less likely now because our strategies are different, but that’s certainly one possibility,“ Hird said.”
“We can do assets swaps, we can do a straight disposal, we can get leveraged finance.”
Although takeovers were not a top priority for Kazakhmys, if an attractive deal emerged, the company would have the firepower to pay with the ENRC stake, Hird added.
“At $4.5 billion (value of the ENRC stake), we could easily raise $1 billion of debt against that. It’s a good source of liquidity, it’s a source of security if we need to raise financing.” (Reporting by Eric Onstad; Editing by Erica Billingham)