INTERVIEW-Essar Energy looks to cut rupee debt, improve financials

MUMBAI, Oct 29 (Reuters) - India-focused Essar Energy plans to refinance up to $1.5 billion of its rupee debt within a couple of quarters, as it focuses on improving its balance sheet after a turbulent period that included heavy capital expenditure and regulatory setbacks.

``The focus for the next couple of years is to optimise the asset utilisation, focus on value creation and cash flows,'' Chief Executive Officer Naresh Nayyar told Reuters in an interview.

London-listed Essar Energy - 77 percent-owned by privately held Indian conglomerate Essar Group - had net debt of $5.8 billion at the end of June, mainly from boosting its refinery capacity and funding power projects in India.

Essar's shares earlier this year fell to as low as a quarter of their 420 pence 2010 listing price, after the company missed its earnings forecast and put some of its India power projects on hold due to delays in coal mining approvals.

This was followed by a court ruling that ended a tax break for its majority-owned Essar Oil unit.

Essar has shelved plans to sell about 15 percent of Essar Oil, Nayyar said, after it tied up a corporate loan to settle the unit's tax dues. Also, he said a recent clarification by India's markets regulator will help avoid having to dilute Essar Energy's stake to comply with a minimum 25 percent public shareholding rule.

(Reporting by Prashant Mehra and Tony Munroe; Editing by Michael Urquhart)