An Opportunity In Russia?

Austin writes:

Have you been watching this Georgia-Russia war? If so, do you think it might be a good moment to buy oil company stocks before the war sends the price of oil and energy stocks higher again?

I’ve been watching it like a hawk, but feel that it represents more than just an energy-stock buying opportunity.

My take is that the war provides an entry into the most reasonably priced of the four BRIC developing countries: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Russia’s economy is closely tied to oil and mining so, in a way, Austin is right to be thinking about oil.

I wrote about this in last Sunday’s note to subscribers, and the following is an excerpt from the article:

Here are Kiplinger’s estimated GDP growth forecasts for the developed world:

U.S. +1.5% in 2008 and +1.5% in 2009
Euro Zone +1.3% in 2008 and +0.9% in 2009
Japan +1.0% in 2008 and +0.8% in 2009

Here are the figures for the top developing countries:

China +9.6% in 2008 and +9.0% in 2009
Russia +7.7% in 2008 and +6.8% in 2009
India +7.6% in 2008 and +7.8% in 2009
Brazil +4.8% in 2008 and +3.9% in 2009

If you knew nothing more than this simple comparison, where would you elect to put your money? In the developing countries, of course. Among the four biggest developing countries, Russia looks like the best bargain.

Here’s a handful of reasons to expect impressive economic growth from Russia:

  • It’s the largest country in the world by landmass

  • It participates in the largest and most influential commodity markets in the world

  • Within a few years, it will become the 2nd largest economy in Europe and the 6th largest in the world

  • It has a young population

  • Its education system is good, with almost 100% literacy

  • Its GDP has been growing at 6.8% since 1999

Sierra Global Europe Fund manager Charlie Michaels pointed out to me in an email that the Russian market has recently become cheaper due to three negatives:

  • Its government attacks on corporate interests

  • The falling price of oil

  • The unfolding war with Georgia

“Nonetheless,” Charlie wrote, “Russia trades on a forward P/E less than 1/2 of China’s (7X), has 35% EPS growth expectations (almost double China’s) and just reported a 6-month trade surplus of over $100B. The new president, Medvedev, has no ties to the KGB, is much better educated than Putin, and has come out with numerous stock market friendly comments.”

I then went on to look at what I consider to be the best strategy for entering the Russian market and at what price levels. It’s not fair to paying subscribers for me to reveal that strategy here, but if you fork over a penny to become a subscriber, you can read the whole article in your welcome notes. To try the letter, please click here.

On the off chance that you don’t have a penny but would still like to know more about this situation, I offer the following from a Credit Suisse research note sent out yesterday:

The Russian market has been punished excessively over the last couple of weeks. Even allowing for higher equity risk premium and more normal oil prices, the current valuations are compelling, we think. Our view is, even if sentiment continues to suffer on the back of the Georgia-Russia conflict, to use the current weakness to accumulate positions.

As to the South Ossetia conflict, we point out that while warfare is never a good thing, fundamentally Russia’s economy and infrastructure are not affected. We think that the likelihood of military involvement of other superpowers is below average. The situation may end soon, to be replaced by diplomatic negotiations.

We see three catalysts for a Russian bounce: 1) a lasting ceasefire, and ultimately, some long-term resolution of the South Ossetia issue; 2) a rebound in oil prices: even a minor one will re-ignite interest in the oil and gas names, in our view; 3) an outcome of the Mechel situation in which the company remains a going concern.

Interestingly, The Kelly Letter and Credit Suisse agree on which Russian stocks look best, although we take a different view on the best way to acquire them.

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