Russia funds

Added 1st December 2014

Over the past 12 months, the best performing Russia-weighted fund had a negative 19.5% return.

Russia funds
The data, from FE, was for funds available in Asia with a 70% or more weighting to Russia. As a benchmark, all five funds use the MSCI Russia 10-40, which has been volatile like the funds but has recently diverged and is in positive territory.
This year was terrible for Russia funds, as investor sentiment was tied to the leadership's political and military actions.
The list of woes are now familiar: Russia's seizure of Crimea in March and involvement in the continuing conflict in Ukraine and alleged role in the shootdown of the Malaysia Airlines jet; the economic sanctions from the US and Europe; the fall in the value of the rouble and the perhaps longterm plunge in the price of oil, which underpins the country's economy.
Nonetheless, Moscow-based Tim Umberger, senior adviser at East Capital, sees a lot of opportunity in a broadly-defined consumer sector, which includes real estate, auto production and electronics retailers.
"Companies can do well even when the economy is not. We've seen this on many occasions in the past and again this year," Umberger said, adding that annual GDP growth will likely be negative in 2014. 
In 2013, East Capital's consumer company investments in Russia grew earnings per share 26% when GDP grew 1.3%, he said.
"One observation about Russia that people are missing is that they make investment decisions based too much on the headlines. But look at certain corporate earnings growth and in many cases it may be fantastic. You can find corporates at low valuations paying 5-10% dividends."

Split economy

Russia icontains two parallel economies, added Robert Secker, investment specialist at M&G Investments, which has small exposure to Russia. 
"One is state-run businesses that are difficult to invest in and badly run, but very cheap. The other economy has smaller, private, commercially-oriented businesses that have been overpriced because most money that went into Russia went into those assets."
However, the valuations in those high-quality companies, which would include consumer-oriented business and internet companies, fell low enough during the events of 2014 that M&G bought into three new, though relatively small, positions.
"We're prepared to keep our weighting in Russia at moment. We're not scaling up."

Finding the bottom

The main question about Russia is knowing when are equities cheap enough to start buying more, Umberger said. 
"We think it's quite soon, when both the currency and oil price have found the floor."
However, next year does not look like an improvement in the headlines about Russia. There is no easy resolution to the Ukraine conflict in the near term. If the US and Europe do not increase sanctions, they will likely keep the existing ones in place due to Russia's annexation of Crimea. 
In addition, the fall in oil prices, if it is sustainable, will eventually impact on consumer spending.
"The situation in Ukraine we discuss often," Umberger said. "We believe there will be a gradual de-escalation of the conflict, but tensions will increase before a resolution is found." 

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