Novatek chairman Leonid Mikhelson splashed out $7 million on the company's stock this week — against a backdrop of slumping oil prices in an all-out price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Mikhelson, reputedly Russia's richest business leader, spent the money on Monday and Tuesday buying the gas independent's global depository receipts on the London Stock Exchange and shares on the domestic bourse in Moscow.
Speaking in the Russian capital on Thursday, Mikhelson hinted that he has since continued accumulating publicly traded shares of the gas producer, with a new disclosure expected by the end of this week.
Novatek still has about $520 million of previously allocated funds that it can use to buy back its stock, which would reduce the share count, according to media reports in Moscow.
Last year, the Russian edition of Forbes magazine estimated Mikhelson's net worth at about $24 billion, putting him at the top of the list of the country's business leaders, primarily due to the growth of Novatek as a global liquefied natural gas player after the start-up of Yamal LNG project in 2017.
Mikhelson was reported to have held 24.75% of Novatek stock before the purchases.
Mikhelson’s action this week came as he assured Russia's government that the company’s LNG expansion plans are not set to be negatively affected by the current turmoil in global financials markets and the fall of energy prices.
Speaking in parliament earlier this week, Mikhelson said that Russian authorities should start revising their mid-term forecasts of growth in the country’s gas exports to global markets.
He said Russia may increase shipments of gas to Europe, Asia and Asia Pacific to a total of 550 billion cubic metres per annum by 2035 as several of Novatek’s large LNG projects in the Arctic come online.
Some 220 Bcma may be supplied to the global market in the form of LNG, with the remaining 330 Bcma flowing to customers outside Russia via pipelines, Mikhelson said.
Russia exported about 260 Bcm of gas in 2019, with the bulk of that amount handled by state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom.
Industry analysts in Moscow said that the anticipated growth in pipeline gas exports will likely require a partial or full removal of Gazprom’s monopoly over such shipments to Europe and China — move that Mikhelson and other Russian companies, such as oil giant Rosneft, have long been arguing for.
Following the commissioning of a subsea gas export pipeline from Russia to Turkey — TurkStream — at the end of the last year, the country has built significant unused gas export capacity to Europe.
Mikhelson’s optimistic view over the growth of Russian gas exports has been echoed by similar pronouncements from other quarters that the country and its oil producers can withstand pressures of low energy prices.
Speaking in Moscow on Thursday ahead of a meeting between Energy Minister Alexander Novak and the heads of Russian oil and gas producers, Tatneft chief executive Nail Managov said that the regional oil producer will not halt production even if “the oil price falls to $8 per barrel”.