Originally created 08/24/04

Yukos cuts output forecast, shares fall on latest ominous report



MOSCOW -- Beleaguered Russian oil company Yukos announced Monday that it had reduced its crude output forecast for the year as bailiffs continued to collect cash against the company's crushing back taxes bill from its frozen bank accounts.

Earlier Monday, shares in the company dropped on a report that tax officials are preparing a separate $3 billion tax claim against its main subsidiary.

Yukos is already struggling to pay off a $3.4 billion back tax bill for 2000 and faces a similar claim for 2001, part of a web of legal actions against the company and its jailed ex-CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky that is widely seen as Kremlin-approved punishment for his growing clout and political activity.

Yukos's share price had tumbled over 6 percent by midday on Moscow's RTS exchange and plunged 8.5 percent 20 minutes into trading on the MICEX exchange.

The Financial Times reported Monday that the Tax Ministry was preparing the new claim against Yuganskneftegaz, the western Siberian production unit that accounts for 60 percent of Yukos output. Yuganskneftegaz is being evaluated for possible sale as collateral for the tax claims, which are expected to rise to $10 billion for the period 2000-2003.

The Tax Ministry declined to comment immediately on the report.

An earlier announcement that Western investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein had been selected to establish the company's value was greeted positively by analysts who had feared that Yuganskneftegaz, which produces as much oil as Algeria, would be sold off at a knockdown price to a company approved by President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin.

However, Monday's report appeared to resurrect that possibility, since the tax claim could reduce the company's market value, putting it within reach of a Russian buyer.

Meanwhile, Yukos announced that it was cutting planned production for the year by about 4.5 percent to 1.73 million barrels a day, from an original 1.81 million barrels per day. Yukos also said it would slash its capital and operating expenditures by $700 million.

The new production forecast is still 6 percent higher than 2003.

In a statement issued Monday, Yukos CEO Steven Theede said that half of the company's monthly revenue was not available to meet day-to-day operating costs.

The possibility of bankruptcy or production stoppages has been raised frequently over the past month, as neither the government nor Group Menatep - the offshore-registered investment vehicle through which Khodorkovsky controls Yukos - show signs of reaching an agreement.

"Basically it means that production will plateau - they won't do any new drilling or well-workovers," said Ronald Smith, oil and gas analyst at Renaissance Capital. "Its not that black given everything else that's flying around."

In an interview published Monday in the Russian daily Kommersant, Group Menatep board chairman Tim Osborne said that there had been "no positive signals" from the government so far on working out a compromise.

The trial of Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev on charges including fraud and tax evasion continued Monday with the prosecutor pressing on with his questioning of the first witness in the case, Anatoly Pozdnyakov.

Pozdnyakov is the former head of fertilizer plant Apatit. The plant's 1994 privatization is at the center of the case against the two tycoons.

In Monday's hearing, Khodorkovsky questioned the transcript of an interview with Pozdnyakov and suggested that the information it contained was inaccurate and contradicted material that the prosecution had previously submitted. Khodorkovsky also requested greater freedom to communicate with his legal team.