Kazakhstan woos investors with stakes in national assets

Kazakhstan aims to privatise hundreds of the country's assets and is looking to sell stakes in 65 of the largest state-owned companies by 2020, as well as other smaller regional companies. These include stakes in the country's national oil and gas co
Kazakhstan aims to privatise hundreds of the country's assets and is looking to sell stakes in 65 of the largest state-owned companies by 2020, as well as other smaller regional companies. These include stakes in the country's national oil and gas company KazMunay Gas.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SAMRUK-KAZYNA JSC

It welcomes S'pore investors, and sovereign wealth fund has spoken to GIC and Temasek

Kazakhstan is looking to attract Singaporean investors with stakes up for grabs in seven of its core state-owned enterprises.

The entities include the country's national carrier Air Astana; postal service Kazpost; oil and gas firm KazMunay Gas; Kazatompron, its largest uranium producer; and the national grid company KEGOC.

The country's sovereign wealth fund, Samruk-Kazyna, is managing the privatisation of the companies. Except for Air Astana, where plans are under discussion, it intends to sell up to 25 per cent of each enterprise.

Ms Baljeet Kaur Grewal, managing director of Strategy and Portfolio Investments at Samruk-Kazyna, was in Singapore this week for the Stewardship Asia forum.

She told The Straits Times that the fund has spoken to Singaporean institutional investors, including Temasek Holdings and GIC.

"We look forward to welcoming Singapore investors into Central Asia. Kazakhstan is a great resource-rich nation and I think for any country wishing to diversify and to grow into frontier economies, it offers a significant economic proposition, one that allows investors to tap into various industries," said Ms Grewal.

INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY

If you look at the landscape across Asia, across developed markets, there are really not many economies that have privatised their national assets.

MS BALJEET KAUR GREWAL, managing director of Strategy and Portfolio Investments at Samruk-Kazyna, on the opportunity Kazakhstan is presenting.

She added that Kazakhstan is unique because "if you look at the landscape across Asia, across developed markets, there are really not many economies that have privatised their national assets".

These seven companies are the frontrunners of Kazakhstan's ambitious drive to privatise hundreds of the country's assets. The initiative, announced in November last year, aims to sell stakes in 65 of the largest state-owned companies by 2020, as well as other smaller regional companies. Samruk-Kazyna will manage the privatisation of 216 companies, it said.

Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country which separated from the Soviet Union in 1991, has been hit hard by the sharp drop in oil prices. Its currency, the tenge, was among the world's most volatile last year and has depreciated 45 per cent against the American dollar in the past year.

While the crisis has driven home the need to reform its hydrocarbon-based economy, foreign investors have cast doubt on Kazakhstan's ability to carry out privatisation, which it has tried to do with limited success in the past.

Last month, KazMunay Gas attempted to tighten control over its UK-listed subsidiary by offering to buy out minority shareholders, but its independent directors pushed back, saying the offer price significantly undervalued the company.

Shareholders warned that KazMunay Gas' treatment of minority shareholders would be scrutinised by international investors looking at Kazakhstan's privatisation efforts.

Ms Grewal said the fund's privatisation drive has been accelerated by oil's decline. It aims to list its first company in 2018.

"The fall in the commodity prices has actually given the fund a little bit of leeway to actually perform this transformation on a bold and ambitious scale, " she said.

Ms Grewal, who is Malaysian, said that the companies were being moved from an operational to a strategic business model driven by a commercial objective.

She added that the fund had set up a privatisation office with the Boston Consulting Group.

"We are now charting a strategy for each asset so that when we eventually privatise, our companies would have already derived substantial value-add to the business structure, to their portfolio, how they are organised.

"We have relooked the operating models of these companies, we have hired new talent."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline 'Kazakhstan woos investors with stakes in national assets'. Print Edition | Subscribe