OAO Lukoil Holdings, Russia's largest oil company, said it plans to buy Getty Petroleum Marketing Inc. for $71 million, the first time a Russian company has acquired a publicly traded U.S. firm.
The acquisition means that Lukoil will put its name and red-and-white logo on 1,300 Getty service stations in the Northeast and Midwest as a first step in a broader investment move in the United States. Lukoil will pay $5 a share for the U.S. gas station chain, a remnant of the former oil empire of J. Paul Getty, who died in 1976.
"This is the largest market, for petroleum, and largest financially, in the world," said Vadim Gluzman, the New York-based head of Lukoil's Western hemisphere operations. "We're trying to get involved here." The Getty deal would be a "springboard" for other acquisitions in refining and marketing in the United States, he said.
Formed just after the breakup of the former Soviet Union in 1991 by Vagit Alekperov, then a senior Soviet oil official, Lukoil now produces one-quarter of Russia's oil output. It had revenue of $11 billion last year, according to Gluzman.
Its proven reserves of more than 13.5 billion barrels, among the largest in the industry, are concentrated in western Siberia, the northern Caspian region and Iraq. BP Amoco PLC owns a 10 percent stake in Lukoil through its purchase of Atlantic Richfield Co.
But Lukoil wants to add refining and marketing operations, and found that Getty was available. Getty Petroleum Marketing was spun off from Getty Petroleum Corp. in 1996 to handle the company's gasoline and heating oil sales.
Lukoil will add its name to Getty's gasoline signs--the choice of Lukoil-Getty or Getty-Lukoil hasn't been made yet, the company said.
In three or four years, the stations will carry just the Lukoil logo, Gluzman said. "Little by little," he said, "we'll be trying to build our brand here."
Recent marketing surveys of U.S. consumer attitudes toward a Russian entry in the U.S. market were favorable, Gluzman said. "The Cold War is way over. People in the U.S. view this as a unification," he said. "We don't expect any social problems here."
Alekperov, Lukoil's chief executive, has strong contacts with Russian government leadership, but is not grouped with the newer breed of politically connected Russian oil oligarchs, according to analysts.
Robert Strauss, former ambassador to the Soviet Union and Russian Federation, who described Alekperov as a friend, said the Russian "has been anxious for a presence in this country. This would be a good place to begin." Strauss is a senior partner with the law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, which represented Lukoil in the deal.
Getty would remain headquartered in Jericho, N.Y. Lukoil said it did not expect to make any layoffs and will retain most, if not all, of Getty's current management.
Like many other U.S. oil product marketers, Getty Marketing has struggled in recent years, losing $5.2 million on sales of $596 million in the first half of this year.
Lukoil's offer gives Getty shareholders a 54 percent premium over Getty's closing share price of $3.25 on Wednesday.
Getty's shares climbed $1.38, or 40 percent, to $4.81 in trading yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange after the announcement. Lukoil's American depositary receipts fell $3.75 to $49, Bloomberg reported.
"We do not expect that this acquisition will bring any major profit to" Lukoil, Valery Nesterov, a Moscow-based securities analyst for Chase, told Bloomberg News. However, the U.S. outlets would give Lukoil sales in dollars, rather than vulnerable Russian rubles. Moreover, while Lukoil's sales in Russia are subject to price controls, its U.S. sales would not be.
Staff correspondent David E. Hoffman in Moscow contributed to this report.