VILNIUS - Speculation about the fate of the Mazeikiu Nafta oil complex intensified this week as pressure on Russia's Yukos, the oil company that controls the Lithuanian refinery, intensified in Moscow.
News about the arrest of Yukos shares and the resignation of CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky created an atmosphere of near-panic in the local press, with some reports going so far as to claim that the besieged oil giant might be forced to sell its interest in Mazeikiu Nafta.
Some politicians, particularly on the right, proposed that the state consider buying back Yukos' stake itself.
Andrius Kubilius, leader of the oppositional Homeland Union, went so far as to suggest that the government halt the sale of a stake in Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) to Russia's state-controlled Gazprom gas monopoly.
Given this kind of rhetoric, Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas was forced to comment on the situation, saying on a radio that he was following events closely and that he hoped Yukos would continue "bringing profit to Lithuania's citizens."
However, Paksas, who once resigned as prime minister due to the government's sale of Mazeikiu Nafta to the U.S. oil company Williams International, cautioned against making any "premature evaluations" of the situation unfolding in Moscow.
Yukos' spokesman in Lithuania Arturas Jonkus said that Russia's biggest oil company had no intention of abandoning the Baltic market despite the crisis in Moscow.
Still, investors reacted at the news of the share arrest by Russian prosecutors by selling Mazeikiu Nafta's stock, sending the price down 14 percent during the Oct. 31 session. But by Nov. 5 the price had largely recovered on news that Khodorkovsky had resigned his position as Yukos CEO and that a well-respected Russian-American had been named to take his place.
Arvydas Jacikevicius, a broker at Suprema Investments, said the only word to describe the market was "panic," though for other investors the plummet in share price was a buy opportunity.
"Still, we can see that smaller investors are trying to get rid of the shares, while some other market players submit bids to buy large amounts of oil company shares and are trying to take advantage of the situation," Jacikevicius said.
Meanwhile, Mazeikiu Nafta's financials showed that the Yukos-controlled company was in fine fettle.
According to U.S. GAAP, net profit for the nine months of 2003 amounted to 117.9 million litas (33.6 million euros), compared with a loss of 172 million litas during the same period last year.
Net profit for the third quarter of 2003 was 43.8 million litas, compared with a 39.1 million litas loss during the same period of 2002.
"Positive market trends, stable operations at the Mazeikiu refinery, along with high throughput volumes through the Butinge terminal are the key factors for our success," Paul Nelson English, general director of Mazeikiu Nafta, said.
"The company continues stable operations and expects to end current financial year in net profit," he added.
Mazeikiu Nafta refined over 4.9 million metric tons of crude and other products during the nine months, or 240,000 metric tons more than in the same period last year.