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Outlook for the Russian economy and equities ahead of world cup

Naomi Waistell, emerging market equities portfolio manager at Newton Investment Management (part of BNY Mellon IM), on the outlook for the Russian economy and equities ahead of the world cup:

“The World Cup is an opportunity for Russia. Many people travel there for the first time and are open to the country and its people. Russia has pumped around 11.8 billion US dollars into the construction of stadiums and the associated infrastructure. In my view, however, the effect on the economy will only be short-term.

“In the long term, Russia needs structural reforms to ensure a sustained economic recovery. Both productivity in the country and the employment rate are low. The entrepreneurial spirit is weak and the dominance of the state in companies is great: The Russian state holds 16 percent of the leading index RTS directly. And dependence on the energy sector remains high – Russia exports around 5.1 billion barrels of oil a day, accounting for under 15% of Russian GDP. In 2008 oil exports were around 20% of GDP.

“With a price-earnings ratio of only seven – the DAX-KGV is currently about twice as high (current year multiple) – the Russian stock market is at a historic low. However, investors must bear in mind that this discount to the developed markets has existed for a long time. This is partly due to the permanently low-priced sectors such as energy or raw materials. Moreover, promising consumer or technology stocks are hardly to be found. International sanctions, geopolitical risks and the lack of corporate governance also play a role here.

“There are some attractive businesses in Russia, which are well managed and not exposed to the risks of state ownership, where I would be much more cautious to be a minority shareholder to the Russian government. These attractive businesses tend to be in areas exposed to innovative technology and positive consumption trends at low penetration levels. Such companies should benefit from the proposed reforms as well as the better overall health of the economy as it continues to emerge from recession.”

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