Russia

In a dreadful week for the rouble, Alexander Lukashenka, the president of Belarus, has gone out of his way to make matters worse, threatening to suspend the use of the Russian currency in bilateral trading deals.

“If they are buying our products in Russia they can pay in dollars,” Lukashenka told a government meeting in Minsk on Thursday. If Belarus has to deal in the world’s worst performing currency “then it has to be at the exchange rate on the very day, on the very hour. ” Read more

Russian asset prices have taken a severe battering this year and are now ranked as among the cheapest in the world. The obvious question many are now asking is, “is this a good time to buy” or “is there more pain to come” which might lead to even lower prices and valuations in 2015?

Apart from the cheap valuations, the reason why investors are asking that question now is because, during Russia’s previous two recent crises, in 1998/’99 and 2008/’09, we had similar situations where the reasons to continue avoiding the country were overwhelming but it was, nevertheless, exactly the right time to buy. Read more

Timothy AshBy Timothy Ash of Standard Bank

This time last year I was asked to contribute an article for beyondbrics on the outlook for 2014, and I chose Ukraine (see Hello 2014: Ukraine’s crisis may run and run, December 20, 2014). That post turned out to be prescient, although even I could never have imagined the remarkable turn of events in that country this year.

For 2015 I think Ukraine will remain in the headlines, but its future is likely at least partially to be determined by events in its eastern neighbour, Russia. The new reform administration in Kiev can succeed, if Moscow gives it some breathing space and scales back its own direct intervention in Ukraine. Read more

By Joseph Dobbs, European Leadership Network

Russian aggression towards Ukraine this past year has seen Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, lambasted by Western leaders. China has desisted from such criticism and instead signed two major gas deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars, co-operated in establishing a new development bank, and conducted joint military exercises. For some, Russia and China’s co-operation demonstrates their potential to challenge the global order. But in reality Russia’s pivot east faces too many hurdles to represent a viable alternative to working with the West.

Russia and China have much in common. Both states are increasingly nationalistic and share a common perceived threat of Western containment. In Russia’s case this threat comes primarily from the potential expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). China’s perception of US containment strategies derives mainly from the American military presence in East Asia. Leaders in Moscow and Beijing have both watched with unease as the West supported the Arab Spring and the so-called “colour revolutions” that rocked the likes of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Read more

Russia’s 10-year bond yield has climbed for the 10th consecutive day to a new five-year high of 12.4 per cent as investors continue to exit the country’s financial markets, fast FT reports.

The rouble regained its footing somewhat last week, but only thanks to central bank intervention. It is today once again the world’s worst performing major currency, falling 1.4 per cent to 53.62 per US dollar (see chart below). Read more

By Alan Riley of City Law School

Following South Stream’s demise the Danube nations must look again at their energy vulnerability. These low income states, locked into antique energy infrastructure and facing high renewable bills, face a major energy dilemma – a dilemma shared, in a less acute form, with the rest of the European Union. One way forward is to look again at whether a deal on gas between Russia and the EU could be made to work as a means of encouraging economic growth and helping to settle the dispute over Ukraine. Read more

By David Clark of the Russia Foundation

Marcos Sefcovic, the new European Commission vice-president responsible for energy, was in optimistic mood last week when he predicted a winter without any disruption to gas supplies from Russia. In truth, the trilateral agreement on gas signed by Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in Brussels five weeks ago has yet to be tested and the underlying tensions that made the agreement necessary are far from resolved. Ukraine and Russia remain in a state of undeclared war and this week’s manoeuverings over the proposed South Stream pipeline show that Russia’s desire for a controlling influence over the European energy market is undiminished. To imagine that Vladimir Putin will refrain from playing the energy card as demand for Russian gas reaches its annual peak requires a bold leap of faith, especially since he has just cut off coal supplies to Ukraine. Read more

Vladimir Putin seemed pretty emphatic on Monday that Russia would stop construction of the South Stream gas pipeline, shelving a strategically important project that Moscow was counting on to cement its influence in south-eastern Europe.

Speaking after talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Turkish counterpart, in Ankara, Putin said Russia would abandon the project to bring Russian gas to Bulgaria under the Black Sea, bypassing Ukraine, unless the EU dropped its opposition.

But does this really mark the full stop that it appears to be? It is true that Alexei Miller, CEO of Gazprom, the company charged with building the pipeline, told reporters: “that’s it, the project is closed”. But analysts see a more subtle game in play. Read more

Timothy AshBy Timothy Ash of Standard Bank

The drop in the oil price has been long coming but the surprise over the speed and extent extent of the fall reflects how we tend to get cosy with established norms. In the past few years there has been an entrenched idea that with EM growth and the rise of the EM middle class, structural demand for oil and commodities was a long term, one way trend.

This ignores one of the first lessons we should all have learned in Economics 101. Read more

A fascinating note has arrived in our inbox from Steven Holden of Copley Fund Research, which tracks the investments of 100 big global EM equity funds with about $285bn of assets under management.

Readers may remember a recent piece based on his monthly report in October, showing that big fund managers were predominantly underweight in China compared with the MSCI Emerging Markets index, and overweight in India. An analysis of data from his November report shows that, on average, managers are in line with the MSCI regarding Russia – but that, individually, they diverge greatly from the index, in ways that suggest contrasting views on the crisis in Ukraine and how to play it as an investor. Read more

One of the most powerful emerging markets fund managers in the US is accusing the west of acting “capriciously” by imposing sanctions on Russia.

Justin Leverenz, who controls the $42.3bn Oppenheimer Developing Markets fund, and who has put 7.2 per cent of his fund into Russian stocks, questioned the wisdom and the motives of a confrontation with the Kremlin over the Ukraine. Read more

Source: Thomson Reuters

The Russian rouble dived deeper to new lows on Friday, as the central bank’s decision on Wednesday to let the currency float failed spectacularly to put a floor under the exchange rate. It went briefly through Rbs48 to the dollar during the morning before recovering slightly, down from a low of Rbs45 to the dollar on Wednesday.

“People are in disbelief. The rouble is being smashed again,” said Timothy Ash of Standard Bank. “The central bank is nowhere.” Read more

By Relte Stephen Schutte, Markit

In spite of what you might expect to be a “perfect storm” scenario for Russian stocks, inflows of investment capital into Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) – investment funds traded on stock markets much as a stock would trade – have remained strong.

Net inflows into the 23 Russian tracking ETFs have proved buoyant in the last three months in spite of continued sanctions by the US and Europe and Moscow’s destabilising actions in Ukraine. Such inflows take 2014 net inflows into Russian ETFs past the $1bn mark (see chart), an extraordinary performance given the negative newsflow surrounding Russia. Read more

Timothy AshBy Timoty Ash of Standard Bank

Ukraine is a fast-moving target, making any appraisal something of a work in progress. But taking the country on a stand-alone basis, I see a number of positives:

First, parliamentary elections held last weekend produced a strong majority for reform and even the prospect of a constitutional majority. Pro-EU reform parties took 70 per cent plus of the votes and could have 275 seats in parliament, and even over 300 with independents and some of the more populist/nationalist elements. As with the presidential elections, Ukrainians voted firmly in favour of a pro-western reform agenda. Extreme nationalists performed poorly, as did supporters of the former Regions regime. Read more

By Vladimir Kolychev, VTB Capital

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced this month that Russia should aim to sell its oil and gas for roubles globally, because “the dollar monopoly in energy trade was damaging Russia’s economy”.

This was the clearest indication yet that Russia is serious about its plan to shift away from using the US dollar. Western sanctions against Russia have accelerated this process and encouraged Russia’s close economic alliance with China. Some may question this move but for Russia, a shift away from the dollar makes perfect sense. Read more