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Russia’s agriculture sector continues to BOOM in face of Western sanctions

A major economic shift unremarked by the West, while multiple production dimensions come on line.

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Much is written about the vast strides Russia has made in matters agricultural. The many different Cheese types that were previously imported are now largely produced in Russia. The gains are across the edible board, from poultry, fish and pork through to fruits, vegetable and grains. Grains specifically have shown strong and steady growth due to increased investment as well as using the latest management and production technologies.

For example, wheat harvests in Russia are now not only satisfying Russia’s national demand, but also form a significant and steadily increasing part of the country’s global exports. In Soviet times, world traders and specs eagerly awaited the announcement of the wheat harvest or its forecast potential. To those punters on the world’s futures exchanges it usually signaled how much the USSR will BUY over the coming year to meet its internal needs, as they didn’t ever SELL. That has radically changed, much like the country, its direction, politics, beliefs, abilities and its people.

One small but glaring opportunity gap in this growth curve has only recently come to active investor attention, and is finding real support from the financial institutions in Russia. This gap is in the range of products and ingredients derived through the deeper processing of raw materials, in this case grains. These little known, not off-the-shelf products are an essential part of the processing and manufacture of almost all foods and beverages, and a number of pharmaceutical products, even textiles.

These ingredients are exclusively obtained through deep processing and treatment of wheat and other grains. They include dry wheat gluten, modified starches, glucose-fructose syrup, molasses, and feed mixtures (as a by-product of the technological process).

These products are widely used for not only food production, but also pulp/paper manufacturing, in low-alcohol and beverage industries, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, animal husbandry and in several other industrial sectors. The demand for these products both domestically and in the global markets is strong and continually growing.

In general, only 10-12% of such ingredients are produced in Russia while 88-90% must still be imported. The irony of the situation is that one of the major raw materials used to produce these products is wheat, which has been steadily growing to large surpluses these past several years. Today several multinational firms involved in agricultural processing like Cargill, Archer Daniels, L. Dreyfus and several Asian groups have already started either through M&A or through investing in their own processing to begin filling this void inside Russia.

Russian agricultural companies have been quite active too, as deep processing of grain results in products with far higher economic benefit than simply selling raw material or milled flour/starch. Establishing such deep processing projects also addresses the challenge of partial or even complete import substitution. These valuable and increasingly demanded ingredients can easily use even extremely low grades of wheat as perfectly suitable raw materials, which without deep processing are close to valueless.

One example is a start-up in the Kursk region, which is part of the famously fertile “black earth” area of Russia. The company, a 100% Russian start-up called OOO “InnPromBioTec” is a group of young and experienced professionals in the food processing industry. Their expertise has ranged from implementing and successfully commercializing production of food ranging from low-fat mayonnaise to fermented “kvass” (a traditional Russian grain based beverage), as well as oil from various grains. Today they are in the process of establishing a technologically cutting-edge deep wheat processing facility in the middle of this grain rich region.

With sanctions in place, while they officially do not impinge of food production or foodstuffs, they do and have affected the attitudes of traditional investors in the USA and the EU, not to mention the non-Russian banks. There is a palpable fear among the potential and logical investment partners in both the EU and US not to bend, therefore dismissing profit, rather than risk forging ahead and perhaps facing politically unstable censure from their own countries.

This Kursk based company therefore shifted its focus to the Far East, specifically China, Japan, Thailand, Korea and possibly India. This, while the most cost effective points of export realization and ready markets demanding such deep processed products are next door in Europe, who also import, albeit to a lesser degree, to meet their production requirements.

From an economic perspective, projects such as InnPromBioTec’s are attractive, especially in today’s markets. The capital required for such technologically intensive production is about 150 million Euro equivalent to process 250,000 tons per annum. Russian banks are willing and prepared to lend fully 80% of the needed capital as project financing, and the government affords a number of easements and incentives to make such projects as riskless and transparent as possible as they are considered a national priority, and are therefore quite secure and problem free.

Projects like this are not immediately operational, they must be planned as well as built from scratch, and this has been the bane of long term investing in Russia. Local investors want huge returns on their money and they want it almost immediately, therefore Greenfield projects have tended to suffer neglect.

Projects like deep wheat processing have a very long productive lifecycle, measured sustainably for decades with their products in perpetual and growing demand. Typically, the discounted payback period is from 6 – 7.5 years, with an internal rate of return of approximately 40%, profit margin realistically near 50%.

It looks like Russia’s steady economic evolution away from simply exporting raw materials, but opportunities to deepen the dimensions of production will be financed by visionary, practical and pragmatic Asia. The products of which inescapably will be demanded and consumed by Europe one-way or another, if only because of the secure price of proximity.

At a deeper level, this one project example is indicative of many similar projects coming into being throughout the length and breadth of Russia. The vast soybean farms in the southern parts of the Russian Far East have historically simply sold and shipped the harvests unprocessed across the border into Asia. Today, projects are starting up to add value to these crops by processing some of the myriad products obtained from soybeans both for internal consumption as well as for ready export markets literally next door.

The list goes on, with one of the longest coastlines on the planet (23,000+ Miles), the opportunities for fish, mollusk and crustacean farming is vast. The relatively low cost of energy in Russia and no shortage of fresh water also allows for controlled environment farming regardless of climate, be it hydroponics, greenhouses or commercial scale urban agriculture year round. All of these opportunities afford similar value added dimensions through processing and producing market ready finished goods.

On reviewing Russia’s economic path it is worth noting that it has managed to rebalance its exports from 70 percent energy in 2013 to 59 percent in 2017, according to the World Bank. As of this writing, the budget is again in surplus, and government debt stands at a notable 33% of GDP, the lowest among all of the G20 nations. Inflation is now running at a record low of 2.4% year-over-year, well below the CBR’s target of 4% and food inflation despite sanctions is close to 0%. Simply to contrast, and yes, sizes and volumes do make a difference, so just to cherry-pick: The S&P 500 Index is up just a tad over 13% for the past year, while at the same time the MOEX Russia Index has shown 21+% growth with an attractive 6.46% dividend yield, compared to 1.94% for U.S. stocks.

A major economic shift is occurring as secondary, tertiary production, manufacturing and the support and services infrastructure businesses establish and develop inside Russia. Some projections indicate that in these new business areas Russia will show a sustainable 5-6% year on year growth from 2018 – 2020, and perhaps greater. Incredibly, it is woefully under-reported even by the international financial press.

These secondary and tertiary industries have been historically left to the outside world to import into Russia. Be it in agriculture, textiles, machinery or oil patch technologies, Russia is now steadily filling these internal niches, and the opportunities for investors today have vastly expanded into many previously ignored dimensions. It only requires the business will and clarity of “blinders-free” vision to investigate, get involved and step up to the table.

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WalterWayne BlowfoxenburgGano1William Reston Recent comment authors
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Walter
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Walter

Sanctions against Russia are a big laugh. Sanctions are a big loss to EU countries who want them ended. Maybe the Putin-Trump meeting next month will correct this problem.

Walter
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Walter

Why are my comments not published??

Walter
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Walter

Why are my comments not published ???

Wayne Blow
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Wayne Blow

Go Russia, beats gas pipes and bomb making eh ??

foxenburg
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foxenburg

You say Russia is short of, inter alia…..dry wheat gluten, modified starches, glucose-fructose syrup, molasses.

The Russians would be wise to steer clear of this obesity-inducing Western crap.

Gano1
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Gano1

Farm machinery is selling well too, they build some very good machinery and it is cheaper than Western junk.

William Reston
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William Reston

As usual, excellent insights Mr. Goncharoff. Your opinion articles are a breath of fresh air and a wonderful truth window into Russia for all of us “out here” in the States. Thank you!

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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