January 31st, 2011

Top Ten Reasons to Avoid Russia

Russia Profile reported on Medvedev’s speech at Davos to convince world and business leaders that Russia is ready to do business again. However, Tai Adelaja notes that

Despite the horrendous terrorist attacks, experts say the only bug in the president’s ointment is the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former billionaire head of Yukos Oil, which continues to cast a shadow on the rule of law and leave a negative impact on Russia’s reputation abroad.

Adelaja describes Medvedev’s top ten reasons to invest in Russia. Here are some reasons to disagree.

Number one: Russia has slashed the number of its strategic companies fivefold. It is no secret that Russia experienced record capital outflows in 2010 and despite rising oil prices faces huge budget gaps. The Kremlin as its self interest in mind when it sheds strategic assets. Putin’s government has a history of opening up businesses to investments to allow others to turnaround the company only to come in at the end to take the company away through trumped up taxes and other phantom violations.

Number two: Russia is set to embark on a large-scale sell-off of state assets in efforts to modernize its country. The Russian government is expected to sell $32 billion in assets by 2013. Foreign investors should remember that some of those state assets were acquired by the state through expropriation. Rosneft’s major assets came after the dismantling of Yukos; now Russian officials are asking investors to risk their capital in Russia again.

Number three: President Medvedev said is poised to create a “special sovereign fund” to attract foreign capital. This was written about in an earlier post. With corruption at all levels in Russia continuing to climb, it was a contributor to the attack at the Domodedovo airport on January 24, Russia is now the lowest ranked developing country in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Out of 178 countries, Russia is ranked 154th. With capital leakage out of the Russian economy at all levels, it is clear that the special sovereign fund will be a tool for foreign investors to give money to Russian officials. Prime Minister Putin, the leader of the power tandem, has built himself a $1 billion palace with money milked from the power vertical he created. Below are some pictures, provided by RuLeaks, Russia’s version of WikiLeaks.

For more pictures click on photo.

Reason four: Medvedev reiterated that Russia will refrain from imposing a special tax on banks and the financial sector in an effort to attract addtional capital into the country. Russia needs to do all it can to attract foreign investment. In 2010, $38 billion in capital flight was from not only foreign investors but Russian ones as well seeking higher returns for their investment. The Russian stock market, despite being in the so-called BRIC powerhouse and overweighted in emerging markets indices, has lagged the other countries in performance and carries a 30% discount in valuations from other emerging economies.

Reason five: the Kremlin is pressing ahead with efforts to transform Moscow into one of the top-ten global financial centers as part of a drive to diversify the economy away from energy exports. President Medvedev announed in May 2010 that Alexander Voloshin, chairman of Russia’s metals giant Norilsk Nickel, will be the newest member of a presidential council on financial reform and lead the conversion of Moscow into a global financial powerhouse. As we mentioned in an earlier post, Russia is not yet a member of  International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), which is a minimum requirement for international financial centers. Of greater concern is why financial centers appear and grow, to efficiently allocate capital. But with even Russian investors shunning their exchange for London, New York or Hong Kong and capital outflows reaching record numbers, it is difficult to see how Moscow can differentiate itself and maintain international market standards.

Reason six: Medvedev reaffirmed Russia’s ambition to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). President Medevedev has proven himself to be ambitious in words but lacking in execution. From his anti-corruption commission to fighting the terrorists who attacked the Moscow airport, Medvedev is the more articulate of the leadership tandem, but he is not the one who holds the power. Medevedev recently admitted that there has been no progress in the country’s anti-corruption progress.

Reason seven: Medvedev vowed to continue the implementation of energy efficiency programs, stressing that the state would also enourage more partnerships in the energy sector. Rosneft, the 75% state owned oil producer recently announced partnerships with BP and Exxon Mobil. BP seemed to have learned from their previous scuffles with Russian authorities that political power trumps business ones. So it has decided to leave its long-time Russia partner TNK and $990 million in dividends to join forces with Putin and Igor Sechin at Rosneft.

Reason eight: Russia is presently developing a mechanism that would help it share technology – especially military technology – with other nations.  This seems to be another tactic for selling state assets as the Kremlin tries to find additional sources of capital, even as the price of oil moves past $90 a barrel.

Reason nine: Russia continues to invest heavily in its human resources, including trying to educate future businessmen and officials abroad.  President Medvedev said at Davos, “Our task is to make Russia more attractive to foreign experts to work in.” Expat workers need to remember Yukos and its audit firm, PWC. During the politically motivated second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, PWC officials were pressured by Kremlin officials to rescind their audit certification of oil giant Yukos to prove the prosecutor’s case. 

Reason ten: Russia is also pushing to interest investors in projects related to the development of sports and large athletic events in preparation for the Olympic Games. Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Games and corruption is roaring its head as the Sochi Winter Games in 2014 is already the most expensive by far. Just today, the constructiion chief for the Sochi Olympics, Taimuraz Bolloyev stepped down as President Medvedev announced fraud investigations.

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