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Will Gazprom's Energy Threat End up Backfiring?

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Three weeks ago I wrote an article examining the Ukrainian protests and how they may affect Russian natural gas giant Gazprom (NASDAQOTH: OGZPY  ) . Essentially a state-run enterprise, the company is the largest extractor of natural gas in the world and a big part of the Russian economy, contributing just under 9% of the country's GDP. With Europe historically dependent on Russian energy, the protests raised concerns that unstable politics would eventually create unstable energy markets. 

Although Ukraine has lost one government and gained another, the instability has only increased, and the subsequent political maneuvering has led to Russia facing off with the EU and the U.S. This has only made things worse for Gazprom, as the EU Energy Commission considers implementing delays to the South Stream pipeline. Now the company is seeing massive shifts in its stock price as well as potential losses in the near future.

What is the South Stream pipeline?
The South Stream pipeline was conceived as a means by which Russia could shift its natural gas through the Black Sea and up through the Balkan region of Europe (through Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia) to markets in Italy for European distribution. Long seen as a rival to another proposed pipeline (the Nabucco project) in the area, the pipeline was expected to move in excess of 63 million cubic meters of natural gas annually. With its origin in Russia, the obvious winner was Gazprom, which would gain a more reliable way to shift 10% of its annual production to market. 

Why delay the pipeline?
Despite an initial drop in the European stock market after Gazprom threatened Friday to disrupt its supplies of gas to Europe, politics is beginning to drive business decisions as Monday saw the EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger delaying talks with Russia on the South Stream in response to the crisis in Crimea. As Europe imports 30% of its energy needs from Gazprom, this may be a needlessly antagonistic move.

Or is it?

Although the EU has needed to comply with Russian energy prices in the past, changing circumstances are making the threat somewhat ineffective.

Importing less and less of its energy needs from Russia over time (30% now as opposed to 45% in 2005), the European economy is nowhere near as vulnerable as it would otherwise be. 

With the EU experiencing a very mild winter (comparative to the U.S.), a significant reserve of oil and gas remains on hand. This reserve is estimated at 40 million cubic meters of various energy stocks and permits the European Union to be a little bit belligerent. 

Are Gazprom's opportunities drying up?
Gazprom seems to be reeling in the wake of this potential delay. The stock has lost a fifth of its value. The ousting of Ukraine's last president only compounds the issue by closing off a market for the Russian company.

And things may only get worse for the giant; U.S. companies are entering into negotiations with EU companies to "pick up the slack" generated by a delay in the pipeline. Though there may be some economic disruption down the line for EU firms transitioning from Russian energy to U.S. energy, the fact remains: Gazprom may have overplayed its hand and is now reaping what it has sown.

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Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 11, 2014, at 9:12 PM, zyg wrote:

    Gazprom "OGZPY" is Sanford C. Bernstein's #1 pick for Russia in 2014 with a $13 price target. Check Bloomberg.

    Kurt Avard has no Idea what he is talking about.

  • Report this Comment On March 12, 2014, at 12:51 AM, erich69 wrote:

    Be greedy when others are fearful... P/E =1.95 and price/book = 0.27, current ratio = 2.11 and the executives recognizing how cheap the stock was at $10/share talking about buying back shares. If you can stomach political tension till things cool off you have a once in a lifetime bargain on your hands!

  • Report this Comment On March 13, 2014, at 3:59 AM, amvet wrote:

    Why do you avoid mentioning that we engineered and financed a coup in the Uraine and our Ms. Nuland ( F**k the EU) choose the new Ukrainian leader? Also, when the solid foreign minister of anti-Russian Estonia said that there was strong evidence that our guys were behind shooting and killing both police and demonstrators, the media types became deathly silent.

    Your article should be titled, will the US succeed in ruining Russia?

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Kurt Avard

A January 2014 addition to the Motley Fool team, Kurt Avard prefers to focus on the "dark" side of business and how it interacts with politics. Rarely writing on the same thing twice, he feels that, if he manages to convince you that the two are inexorably linked, he has adequately done his job. Follow him on Twitter @kurtsavard

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