Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image Gazprom: Nothing but Trouble

By Toby Shute October 9, 2007

If ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) is a 10, OAO Gazprom (OTC BB: OGZPY) weighs in on the freaking huge scale at about an 8. The Russian giant supplies about one-third of Western Europe’s natural gas imports. It also accounts for roughly one-fifth of global production.

With more than 400,000 employees — about four times as many as BP (NYSE: BP) or Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A) (NYSE: RDS-B) — you’d think Gazprom would have the resources to release first-quarter earnings sometime earlier than October. This isn’t the result of a funky fiscal year — I’m talking about January through March. Oh, well — let’s take a look at how the firm was doing three quarters ago.

Gazprom rakes in some serious rubles. Sales for the quarter rose over 4% to R612 billion ($24.4 billion), and the bottom line came in 14% higher at R217 billion ($8.7 billion). That 35% net margin blows away even other emerging-market integrated giants like PetroChina (NYSE: PTR) and Petrobras (NYSE: PBR). While the net profit figure was juiced this quarter by the deconsolidation of a pension fund, Gazprom’s operating margin is still very impressive.

Given the firm’s strong state backing, I would be more comfortable owning Gazprom than lukewarm Lukoil. Still, even with its gazillion feet of gas in the ground, Gazprom has badly lagged the returns of the Chinese and Brazilian firms mentioned earlier. While I find Gazprom’s margins enviable, I don’t see shareholders being compensated adequately for the risk of holding this name. My feelings about this stock are perhaps best summarized by the Russian proverb, “One would like to eat fish but would not like to get into the water.”

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Fool contributor Toby Shute highly recommends the new Russian mobster film Eastern Promises, but he doesn’t have a position in any company mentioned. Petrobras is an Income Investor recommendation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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