Russia’s investment climate plummets

Diverse Paper Currency, Coins, Line Graph

(Business New Europe – – PERSPECTIVE: bne IntelliNews – February 16, 2015)

[Charts here]

A survey into Russia’s investment climate by Moscow-based Detail Communications found that investment confidence has halved since the crisis hit. However, a third of respondents – a mix of portfolio managers and analysts from some of the most prominent investment banks, asset management firms and hedge funds – expect the Russian stock market to bounce off the bottom this year and put in double-digit returns.

“Russia is arguably facing its most challenging times in modern history. For the country, 2014 was marked by tensions in Ukraine, sanctions, plummeting oil prices, change in ownership of Crimea, currency devaluation and economic recession. Needless to say, this did not go down well with investors. By the end of the year, the market capitalization of the entire Russian stock market was less than that of one single corporation – Apple,” said Timofey Pletz, CEO of Detail.

Even so, Detail found that, “Almost a third of the respondents showed great optimism and expect to see double-digit growth from the Russian stock market in 2015. That’s despite the fact that none of them forecast economic growth in 2015.”

Despite expectations of a big ‘dead cat bounce’ this year, similar to one that saw a tripling of asset prices in the spring of 2009, investor confidence remains close to historical lows. On a scale of 1 to 10, Russia had an average score of 5.6 for its investment climate before the crisis, which has since more than halved and is now equal to 2.5, the survey found. Around 70% of investors gave Russia two of the lowest possible scores.

Investors are concerned with a smorgasbord of problems, but political risk and geopolitical tension are top of the list. That said, one of the worries that don’t appear to faze investors is the fear that Russia will default on its debt: 92% of the investors are either completely not worried or have only slight concerns about Russia defaulting on its debt. “A Russia default is also out of the question, with only 8% [of respondents] saying they are very worried about it,” says Pletz.

It’s an issue that bne IntelliNews raised in a recent chart, questioning whether rating agency Standard & Poor’s recent decision to downgrade Russia to junk status was justified; a look at the macroeconomic fundamentals raises a big question mark over the decision.

Investors are also pretty pessimistic about the prospects for near-term economic recovery: none of the respondents expects the Russian economy to rebound in 2015. The majority (44%) believe it will happen in 2017. Almost 20% say it will happen only in five years’ time.

As for attractive investment opportunities, oil and gas remains the standout sector of choice for investors. “Despite underlining the concern about how dependent Russia remains on oil prices, which plummeted in 2014, almost half of the investors (38%) named the oil and gas sector as the most attractive industry,” says Pletz.

These companies are the big winners from devaluation, as their costs are in rubles but most of their revenue is in foreign currency. Tied in second place are the metals and mining industry, also a big winner from devaluation, along with agriculture.

Interestingly, the survey finds that domestic issues are top of the pile when it comes to making Russia a more attractive investment proposition: almost 50% of investors say reform and diversification of the economy is the top priority to make Russia more attractive to investors. Peace in Ukraine and sanctions being lifted are in third and sixth place, respectively, the survey found.