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RUSSIAN BANK VENTURING TOWARD WALL STREET

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The Russians are coming to Wall Street.

Last week, AvtoVAZbank, a regional Russian bank largely owned by the country's biggest auto maker, became the first Russian company to make the initial filing to issue American depositary receipts, securities distributed in the U.S. backed by the foreign stock.The AvtoVAZbank application is the first of as many as 10 expected from Russia in coming months as the country's newly privatized companies lay the groundwork for raising capital in world markets.

Russia "has the potential to be one of the truly huge ADR markets in the world because of the size of the country and the size of the companies," said an executive in London with Bank of New York. The bank, a unit of Bank of New York Co., will issue the ADRs and hold the Russian stock in its name.

AvtoVAZbank is applying to issue ADRs of existing Russian shares on the over-the-counter, or "pink sheet" market. This is a first step to issuing securities and listing them on a U.S. exchange, said Jim West, president of Score Financial Corp., a Beverly Hills, Calif., company that advised the bank.

Even the pink-sheet ADRs would represent a major step in opening up the risky but potentially profitable Russian market, still in its initial stage of development, to foreign investors.

While individual investors can buy the ADRs, Bank of New York, Citicorp's Citibank unit and other leading Western institutions working on ADR deals in Moscow are really after vast amounts of capital from U.S. mutual funds and pension funds that can't invest in Russia because of uncertainty about who holds the shares and how they are actually traded.

"There are piles of money from managers who say they want to invest in Russia," said Miljenko Horvat, president of Citibank in Russia, which is working on several ADR deals. "ADRs are in part a way to work around the problem of title and registry issues and the unwieldy trading environment."

AvtoVAZbank hopes to issue the ADRs in January, pending approval of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said Dmitry Zharanov, development director with ANS Investment Co., the investment arm of the bank.

SEC officials in Washington declined to comment on the request. AvtoVAZbank's actual filing was a request for an exemption from U.S. disclosure requirements.

Such exemptions are routinely sought by foreign companies seeking to sell this level of ADRs in the United States. The exemption means the company only has to disclose in the United States what it makes available in its home country.