Gazprom soon will open up access for foreigners to shares

Gazprom said Thursday it was on course to lift restrictions on ownership of its stock by the end of the year, a long-awaited move that will open up access for foreigners to shares in the biggest natural gas producer in the world.

The legal blueprint giving foreigners full access to Gazprom shares would be submitted to the government in the "coming days," the company said. Legal changes and amendments would then need to be approved by parliament, the AP reports.

Under restrictions introduced in the 1990s to prevent a foreign takeover of Gazprom, non-Russians are not allowed to buy domestically listed shares in the company - obliging them to purchase shares listed in New York and London at a premium. Gazprom supplies about a quarter of Europe's gas and is a major contributor to the Russian budget.

But despite their comparatively low price and considerable promise, Gazprom shares mean exposure to a company famed for mismanagement, nepotism and a sprawling Soviet-style bureaucracy, analysts said.

With a current market capitalization of US$119 billion (Ђ99 billion) the company is looking fairly priced despite its vast reserves of 114 billion barrels of oil equivalent, said Roland Nash, head of research at the Renaissance Capital investment bank. AM

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