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Analysis

CONFIRMED: Foreign investors flock back to Russia

As economy strengthens Russia overtakes India as top pick for foreign investors and equity funds

Alexander Mercouris

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This article was first published by RussiaFeed

Growing investor confidence in the Russia as its historically high inflation rate continues to fall, and as its economy leaves recession behind it, has received dramatic confirmation with the news that for the first time Russia has overtaken India as the preferred investment option of emerging market investors.

This confirmation comes from the most authoritative possible source, an article in the Financial Times, which in recent years has been intensely critical of Russia.

Russia has taken over from India as the largest overweight position for emerging market equity funds.

The move comes despite the imposition of ever-tighter sanctions on Moscow, still low oil prices and an economy now pulling out of bitter recession but still assailed by real, inflation-adjusted interest rates of 5.2 per cent.

In contrast, India has long been a darling of foreign investors licking their lips at the prospect of the world’s second-most populous country growing at a punchy rate, assisted by the reformist zeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Russia is now the largest overweight position among emerging market managers for the first time since our records began in 2011, surpassing longstanding EM favourite India,” said Steven Holden, founder of Copley Fund Research, who compiled the data and confessed to “surprise” at Russia’s newfound popularity.

The average EM equity fund is now overweight Russia by 1.46 percentage points, surpassing the 1.4 percentage-point figure for India, where fund managers had an average overweight position of 4.4 per cent in early 2015, according to Copley’s numbers, as shown in the first chart.

The data are based on the holdings of 126 funds with combined assets of $300bn. Of these funds, 72.8 per cent are now overweight Russia, compared with only 60 per cent with an outsize position in India….

The article points out correctly that foreign investor interest in Russia starts from a very low base, and that Russia has overtaken India as much because of India’s recent loss of attractiveness as Russia’s rise in attractiveness.

However the article also makes it clear that the rise in investor interest in Russia is ultimately driven by Russia’s increasingly strong fundamentals

Mr Jain is among a group of investors with a genuine fervour for Russia now, which is striking given that he was “ultra bearish for 15 years”, while CIO of Switzerland’s Vontobel Asset Management, where he ran as much as $32bn. Yet now his GQG Partners Emerging Markets Equity fund has an exposure of 10.2 per cent to Russia, more than three times its index weight.

“I was publicly critical of investing in Russia. I have covered Russia for 25 years and this is the most I have had,” he said.

Nicholas Field, EM strategist at Schroders and co-manager of the group’s Global Emerging Market Opportunities fund, is another convert, with a punchier weighting of 14.2 per cent.

“A lot of the headlines one reads about Russia are about geopolitics and relations with the US and so on, but when you look at the economy you do see some things that are interesting to investors,” he said.

Mr Jain’s thesis is that the sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and EU, as well as the slide in oil prices, have been largely beneficial to foreign investors because they have forced Russian companies to delever and cut costs.

India is very expensive. It has gone from very cheap to one of the most expensive markets.  More specifically, he says Russian oil companies have been forced to develop complex drilling technology in-house, potentially helping them in the long term, while some domestic agricultural companies, such as cheesemakers, have benefited from reduced foreign competition amid Russian counter-sanctions on European food imports.

“Sanctions have been positive for the Russian corporate world. [Companies] were forced to get their act together and there was a massive cost-cutting effort,” said Mr Jain. “Because of this cost-cutting, operating profits are higher than people estimate. Corporate earnings have begun to recover after a long slump. You have to follow the corporate profits.”

He even sees positives in the travails of Otkritie and B&N Bank, two private banks that have been bailed out by the central bank and nationalised in recent weeks after running into financial difficulties.

About 4.2 per cent of Mr Jain’s fund is invested in Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. He said: “The banking industry has seen massive consolidation. Now three banks control 70 per cent of the assets. “Sberbank is very well run, on six times earnings. How many banks make 20 per cent ROE [return on equity] in the middle of a recession? The position they have wouldn’t be allowed in many countries, and now there is tremendous credit growth and NPLs [non-performing loans] are coming off.”

Overall, he sees room for further top-line revenue growth, margin expansion and a market re-rating, given that Moscow currently trades on a price/earnings ratio of just 7.8 and has a chunky dividend yield of 4.7 per cent.

Readers of RussiaFeed and of The Duran will already be familiar with much of this.  By way of example, here is a recent article I wrote for The Duran on the subject of Russia’s advances in oil drilling technology (one of the subjects touched on in the Financial Times article by Rajiv Jain), whilst the rapid advance of Russian agriculture, in part as a consequence of Russia’s counter-sanctions (a subject also touched on by Rajiv Jain) was recently discussed by me on RussiaFeed here.

As for the growing strength of the Russian financial and banking system – historically the Achilles heel of Russia’s post-Soviet economy – I have discussed it many times and in many places (see for example here and here).

What is finally happening is that the international investment community – and the Financial Times – are finally catching up with the truth of all of this.

Given the enormous amount of negative “noise” from which Russia suffers and the Financial Times’s longstanding hostility to the country and its government, the article about international investors coming to Russia nonetheless and entirely unsurprisingly comes with a sting in its tail.  The growing interest in Russia is supposedly not because its long term economic prospects are good.  It is only because of Russia’s recovery from recession

Mr Field’s optimism is fuelled by the country’s economic recovery, which he expects to continue until at least the middle of 2018. “Demand has been suppressed so the recovery should continue for a while. Inflation has dropped to 3.3 per cent, which is pretty unheard of in Russia. In the next 12-24 months there is room for quite a few interest rate cuts and that can certainly boost the economy. The one thing that can upset that is another major move in the oil price,” said Mr Field.

Nevertheless, he is not a long-term bull. “We don’t think long-term structural trend growth is very high, so as much as people are buying into Russia now it’s not because it has a glorious 10 or 20 years ahead, it’s because it’s recovering.”

We are likely to hear numerous such comments over the next few months as Russia’s renewed economic growth becomes impossible to deny even by those who previously said it would never happen.

Such comments are actually meaningless.  In what sense is an economy’s successful recovery from recession a reason for doubting its future growth?

Putting that aside, the article itself provides abundant examples of the ‘structural reasons’ why strong growth in the future is likely.  To repeat again the comments which appear in the article from Rajiv Jain

…….Russian oil companies have been forced to develop complex drilling technology in-house, potentially helping them in the long term, while some domestic agricultural companies, such as cheesemakers, have benefited from reduced foreign competition amid Russian counter-sanctions on European food imports.

“Sanctions have been positive for the Russian corporate world. [Companies] were forced to get their act together and there was a massive cost-cutting effort,” said Mr Jain. “Because of this cost-cutting, operating profits are higher than people estimate. Corporate earnings have begun to recover after a long slump. You have to follow the corporate profits.”

He even sees positives in the travails of Otkritie and B&N Bank, two private banks that have been bailed out by the central bank and nationalised in recent weeks after running into financial difficulties.

About 4.2 per cent of Mr Jain’s fund is invested in Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. He said: “The banking industry has seen massive consolidation. Now three banks control 70 per cent of the assets. “Sberbank is very well run, on six times earnings. How many banks make 20 per cent ROE [return on equity] in the middle of a recession? The position they have wouldn’t be allowed in many countries, and now there is tremendous credit growth and NPLs [non-performing loans] are coming off.”

What is cost-cutting, greater efficiency, development of new products and new technologies, high operating profits and (within the banking system) successful industry consolidation if not evidence of the economy successfully addressing its structural problems, thereby ensuring its successful long term growth in the future?  No doubt there is much more still to do, but why go on pretending that nothing is happening when it obviously is?

One of the perennial problems discussion of Russia’s economy faces is that its Western critics insist on having it both ways.  They are forced to concede that the Russian economy has successfully adapted to the harsh post-2014 economic conditions in which it found itself (low oil prices and Western sanctions) and is now recovering from a recession that most of them thought would break it, but at the same time they refuse to admit that this successful adaption of the Russian economy to these same harsh economic conditions in any way undermines their deeply critical even at times apocalyptic picture of it.

In reality an economy that could adapt so quickly and so successfully to the challenges it faced in 2014 cannot be the inefficient, corrupt, badly managed, ‘kleptocratic’ and underdeveloped ‘Zaire with snow’ economy imagined by its Western critics.

The article in the Financial Times shows that increasing numbers of fund managers, including some like Rajiv Jain and Nicholas Field who had previously bought into this dark picture, are starting to see the truth of this.

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Is this man the puppet master of Ukraine’s new president or an overhyped bogeyman?

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

RT

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Via RT…


It doesn’t actually matter if Ukrainian-Israeli billionaire Igor Kolomoisky is the real power behind Volodymyr Zelensky – the president elect has to get rid of the oligarch if he is to make a break with the country’s corrupt past.

The plots, deceits and conflicts of interest in Ukrainian politics are so transparent and hyperbolic, that to say that novice politician Zelensky was a protégé of his long-time employer was not something that required months of local investigative journalism – it was just out there.

Zelensky’s comedy troupe has been on Kolomoisky’s top-rated channel for the past eight years, and his media asset spent every possible resource promoting the contender against incumbent Petro Poroshenko, a personal enemy of the tycoon, who hasn’t even risked entering Ukraine in the past months.

Similarly, the millions and the nous needed to run a presidential campaign in a country of nearly 50 million people had to come from somewhere, and Kolomoisky’s lieutenants were said to be in all key posts. The two issued half-hearted denials that one was a frontman for the other, insisting that they were business partners with a cordial working relationship, but voters had to take their word for it.

Now that the supposed scheme has paid off with Zelensky’s spectacular victory in Sunday’s run-off, Ukrainian voters are asking: what does Kolomoisky want now, and will he be allowed to run the show?

‘One-of-a-kind chancer’

Born in 1963, in a family of two Jewish engineers, Kolomoisky is the type of businessman that was once the staple of the post-Soviet public sphere, but represents a dying breed.

That is, he is not an entrepreneur in the established Western sense at all – he did not go from a Soviet bloc apartment to Lake Geneva villas by inventing a new product, or even setting up an efficient business structure in an existing field.

Rather he is an opportunist who got wealthy by skilfully reading trends as the Soviet economy opened up – selling Western-made computers in the late 1980s – and later when independent Ukraine transitioned to a market economy and Kolomoisky managed to get his hands on a large amount of privatisation vouchers that put many of the juiciest local metals and energy concerns into his hands, which he then modernised.

What he possesses is a chutzpah and unscrupulousness that is rare even among his peers. Vladimir Putin once called him a “one-of-a-kind chancer” who managed to “swindle [Chelsea owner] Roman Abramovich himself.” In the perma-chaos of Ukrainian law and politics, where all moves are always on the table, his tactical acumen has got him ahead.

Kolomoisky’s lifeblood is connections and power rather than any pure profit on the balance sheet, though no one actually knows how that would read, as the Privat Group he part-owns is reported to own over 100 businesses in dozens of Ukrainian spheres through a complex network of offshore companies and obscure intermediaries (“There is no Privat Group, it is a media confection,” the oligarch himself says, straight-faced.)

Unsurprisingly, he has been dabbling in politics for decades, particularly following the first Orange Revolution in 2004. Though the vehicles for his support have not been noted for a particular ideological consistency – in reportedly backing Viktor Yushchenko, then Yulia Tymoshenko, he was merely putting his millions on what he thought would be a winning horse.

Grasp exceeds reach

But at some point in the post-Maidan euphoria, Kolomoisky’s narcissism got the better of him, and he accepted a post as the governor of his home region of Dnepropetrovsk, in 2014.

The qualities that might have made him a tolerable rogue on TV, began to grate in a more official role. From his penchant for using the political arena to settle his business disputes, to creating his own paramilitary force by sponsoring anti-Russian battalions out of his own pocket, to his somewhat charmless habit of grilling and threatening to put in prison those less powerful than him in fits of pique (“You wait for me out here like a wife for a cheating husband,” begins a viral expletive-strewn rant against an overwhelmed Radio Free Europe reporter).

There is a temptation here for a comparison with a Donald Trump given a developing country to play with, but for all of the shenanigans, his ideological views have always been relatively straightforward. Despite his Russia-loathing patriotism, not even his fans know what Kolomoisky stands for.

The oligarch fell out with fellow billionaire Poroshenko in early 2015, following a battle over the control of a large oil transport company between the state and the governor. The following year, his Privat Bank, which at one point handled one in four financial transactions in the country was nationalized, though the government said that Kolomoisky had turned it into a mere shell by giving $5 billion of its savings to Privat Group companies.

Other significant assets were seized, the government took to London to launch a case against his international companies, and though never banished, Kolomoisky himself decided it would be safer if he spent as long as necessary jetting between his adopted homes in Switzerland and Tel Aviv, with the occasional trip to London for the foreseeable future.

But the adventurer falls – and rises again. The London case has been dropped due to lack of jurisdiction, and only last week a ruling came shockingly overturning the three-year-old nationalization of Privat Bank.

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

Own man

Zelensky must disabuse him of that notion.

It doesn’t matter that they are friends. Or what handshake agreements they made beforehand. Or that he travelled to Geneva and Tel-Aviv 13 times in the past two years. Or what kompromat Kolomoisky may or may not have on him. It doesn’t matter that his head of security is the man who, for years, guarded the oligarch, and that he may quite genuinely fear for his own safety (it’s not like nothing bad has ever happened to Ukrainian presidents).

Volodymyr Zelensky is now the leader of a large country, with the backing of 13.5 million voters. It is to them that he promised a break with past bribery, graft and cronyism. Even by tolerating one man – and one who makes Poroshenko look wholesome – next to him, he discredits all of that. He will have the support of the people if he pits himself against the puppet master – no one would have elected Kolomoisky in his stead.

Whether the oligarch is told to stay away, whether Ukraine enables the financial fraud investigation into him that has been opened by the FBI, or if he is just treated to the letter of the law, all will be good enough. This is the first and main test, and millions who were prepared to accept the legal fiction of the independent candidate two months ago, will now want to see reality to match. Zelensky’s TV president protagonist in Servant of the People – also broadcast by Kolomoisky’s channel, obviously, would never have compromised like that.

What hinges on this is not just the fate of Zelensky’s presidency, but the chance for Ukraine to restore battered faith in its democracy shaken by a succession of compromised failures at the helm.

Igor Ogorodnev

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Roger Waters – The People’s Champion for Freedom

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there.

Richard Galustian

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Submitted by Richard Galustian 

Roger Waters is one of Britain’s most successful and talented musicians and composers but more importantly is an outstanding champion for freedom in the world, beyond compare to any other artist turned political activist.

By way of background, he co-founded the rock band Pink Floyd in 1965.

A landmark turning point of his political activism occurred in 1990, when Waters staged probably the largest rock concert in history, ‘The Wall – Live in Berlin’, with an attendance of nearly half a million people.

In more recent years Waters famously narrated the 2016 documentary ‘The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States’ about the insidious influence of Zionist Israel to shape American public opinion.

Waters has been an outspoken critic of America’s Neocons and particularly Donald Trump and his policies.

In 2017, Waters condemned Trump’s plan to build a wall separating the United States and Mexico, saying that his band’s iconic famous song, ‘The Wall’ is as he put it “very relevant now with Mr. Trump and all of this talk of building walls and creating as much enmity as possible between races and religions.”

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there, or any place else for that matter.

Here below is a must see recent Roger Waters interview, via satellite from New York, where he speaks brilliantly, succinctly and honestly, unlike no other celebrity, about FREEDOM and the related issues of the day.

The only other artist turned activist, but purely for human rights reasons, as she is apolitical, is the incredible Carla Ortiz.

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ISIS Says Behind Sri Lanka Bombings; Was ‘Retaliation’ For New Zealand Mosque Massacre

ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. 

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Via Zerohedge…


Shortly after the death toll from Sunday’s Easter bombings in Sri Lanka climbed above the 300 mark, ISIS validated the Sri Lankan government’s suspicions that a domestic jihadi organization had help from an international terror network while planning the bombings were validated when ISIS took credit for the attacks.

The claim was made via a report from ISIS’s Amaq news agency. Though the group has lost almost all of the territory that was once part of its transnational caliphate, ISIS now boasts cells across the Muslim world, including in North Africa and elsewhere. Before ISIS took credit for the attack, a Sri Lankan official revealed that Sunday’s attacks were intended as retaliation for the killing of 50 Muslims during last month’s mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

However, the Sri Lankan government didn’t offer any evidence for that claim, or the claim that Sunday’s attacks were planned by two Islamic groups (though that now appears to have been substantiated by ISIS’s claim of responsibility). The group is believed to have worked with the National Tawheed Jamaath, according to the NYT.

“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene told the Parliament.

Meanwhile, the number of suspects arrested in connection with the attacks had increased to 40 from 24 as of Tuesday. The government had declared a national emergency that allowed it sweeping powers to interrogate and detain suspects.

On Monday, the FBI pledged to send agents to Sri Lanka and provide laboratory support for the investigation.

As the death toll in Sri Lanka climbs, the attack is cementing its position as the deadliest terror attack in the region.

  • 321 (as of now): Sri Lanka bombings, 2019
  • 257 Mumbai attacks, 1993
  • 189 Mumbai train blasts, 2006 166 Mumbai attacks, 2008
  • 151 APS/Peshawar school attack, 2014
  • 149 Mastung/Balochistan election rally attack, 2018

Meanwhile, funeral services for some of the bombing victims began on Tuesday.

Even before ISIS took credit for the attack, analysts told the Washington Post that its unprecedented violence suggested that a well-financed international organization was likely involved.

The bombings on Sunday, however, came with little precedent. Sri Lanka may have endured a ghastly civil war and suicide bombings in the past – some credit the Tamil Tigers with pioneering the tactic – but nothing of this scale. Analysts were stunned by the apparent level of coordination behind the strikes, which occurred around the same time on both sides of the country, and suggested the attacks carried the hallmarks of a more international plot.

“Sri Lanka has never seen this sort of attack – coordinated, multiple, high-casualty – ever before, even with the Tamil Tigers during the course of a brutal civil war,” Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka expert at the International Crisis Group, told the Financial Times. “I’m not really convinced this is a Sri Lankan thing. I think the dynamics are global, not driven by some indigenous debate. It seems to me to be a different kind of ballgame.”

Hinting at possible ISIS involvement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a Monday press conference that “radical Islamic terror” remained a threat even after ISIS’s defeats in Syria.

Of course, ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. The extremist group said the attacks were targeting Christians and “coalition countries” and were carried out by fighters from its organization.

Speculation that the government had advanced warning of the attacks, but failed to act amid a power struggle between the country’s president and prime minister, unnerved citizens and contributed to a brewing backlash. Following the bombings, schools and mass had been canceled until at least Monday, with masses called off “until further notice.”

 

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