Russian capitalism turns off equity investors

Nov 08 2012, 21:38 IST
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Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Reuters)
SummaryTrade volumes slide after Vladimir Putin's return as Russia under performs other emerging markets.

Vladimir Putin is back and so is Kremlin capitalism, with a vengeance, leaving a dwindling band of Russia equity bulls clinging to hopes that delivery on his economic reform promises will revive one of the cheapest emerging markets.

Even with political order restored after a turbulent election cycle, Russian shares continue to underperform, market turnover has slumped and portfolio investors find themselves increasingly marginalised by politically connected boards.

A clean-up of corporate governance at the sprawling resource behemoths led by gas export monopoly Gazprom - which together make up two thirds of Russian benchmark stock indexes - could attract buyers.

But with state-controlled oil major Rosneft poised to become the world's largest listed oil firm by output through its $55 billion takeover of TNK-BP, the direction of travel is the opposite, investment analysts and strategists say.

The overarching view on Russia is that people have given up on it, said Milena Ivanova-Venturini, an equity analyst at Renaissance Capital in Moscow.

After his return to the Kremlin in May after four years as prime minister, President Putin called for a new economy, ordering ministers to boost investment and shake up inefficient state-run industries to diversify the economy - long the holy grail for those uneasy at Russia's dependence on commodities.

In the months since, however, failure to deliver on those promises of market-friendly reforms and the state's further encroachment into the economy have helped drag trading volumes in Russian stocks down by 30 percent.

In October, trading volume in stocks that make up Moscow's benchmark MICEX index totalled $21 billion, down 58 percent compared with October 2011. That is the lowest since the height of the global financial crisis in early 2009.

Capital flight persists, reflecting low confidence among Russia-based investors and an aversion to the country risk among foreigners. Also hitting equities, those who do want exposure to Russia can find safer, stronger returns from government bonds.

From Russia without love

Many analysts had hoped that a restoration of calm after Russia's parliamentary and presidential elections - which sparked the largest opposition protests since Putin first became president in 2000 - would revive investor interest.

Reforms to Moscow's market infrastructure, including the commissioning of a new central securities depository to simplify trading and settlement, have meanwhile been touted as part of a drive to create an international financial hub.

But Peter Westin, chief equity strategist at Moscow brokerage Aton, is just back from three weeks of meetings with foreign investors and

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