MOSCOW - Although stung by low world oil prices, Russia's two largest oil producers insisted Thursday that their aggressive development plans are still on target.
Executives from the Lukoil and Yukos oil companies also pledged after meetings with their shareholders to continue to push Russia's dominant export industry toward greater transparency in a bid to boost its appeal to foreign investors.
"Improving investor relations, restructuring our management are some of our top priorities," Vagit Alekperov, president of Lukoil, told journalists after the company's shareholder meeting.
Bruce Misamore, the chief financial officer for Yukos oil company, said Yukos is still on target to meet its goal of listing on either the New York or London stock exchange by mid-2003 - a move that requires even further adherence to Western business practices.
The oil industry is one of Russia's few capitalist success stories. The industry is dominated by hungry, profit-driven companies eager to expand their market share. The government exercises little direct control, which OPEC discovered last year when trying to persuade Russia to go along with oil production cuts to boost the sagging crude price.
Russia reluctantly agreed, but many analysts claim that the oil companies didn't fully do their part and they lobbied hard to have the curb dropped. The Kremlin notified the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries in May that it intended to phase out the reduction over two months.
But foreign investors remained wary, particularly as stories emerged of scant regard shown to minority shareholders.
Thursday's shareholder meetings showed how far the industry has come. In contrast to the 1990s when the meetings were held amid tight security and journalists were kept far away, news conferences at the conclusion are now standard procedure.
Analysts say the companies now recognize the value of foreign investment and a good stock rating, and they are eager to be seen as responsive and open.
Yukos and Lukoil executives used their meetings to make bullish predictions about their companies' future and downplay concerns about last year's poor financial results. The low world oil price hit Russia's oil industry hard with Lukoil reporting a 36-percent drop in net profits, Alekperov said.
Yukos' Misamore said the pain would continue into this year's first quarter results.
"It is going to be a very difficult quarter for all oil companies," Misamore said, though he declined to forecast specific figures.
But despite a weak performance in 2001 and the beginning of 2002, both companies said future growth remains on schedule.
Last year, Yukos boosted its crude oil production by 17.2 percent to 58.07 metric tons (63.88 short tons). The much-larger Lukoil boosted its production by 1 percent to 78.3 million metric tons (86.13 short tons) and its oil exports by 8 percent.
"It would be pleasing to be the biggest oil producer, but that is not our task," Yukos President Mikhail Khodorkovsky said. "Our task is to be the most effective."
Both companies are hunting for new oil fields in the Caspian Sea and throughout Siberia, and pursuing ways to grab more of the lucrative export market.