The low oil price has significantly impacted Russia, while geopolitical tensions and ongoing sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine have deepened its problems. The growth outlook remains negative, the rouble has depreciated by nearly 40% over the last 18 months and the Russian economy contracted 3.8% in 2015. Russia is confronting a growing number of issues this year, and the outlook for 2017 remains uncertain.
However, Russian assets are weak, privatisation is back on the agenda and the need for economic diversification has never been more apparent. With a myriad of factors influencing the country, is Russia becoming too risky for investment?
- With the strain of EU and US sanctions showing on the Russian financial sector, what are the prospects for sanctions to be lifted in the near future
- Realities of sanctions: The state of UK-Russian business relationships
- Investment climate in Russia: What has been done to increase the investment attractiveness of the country and its regions
- Evaluating which sectors will show the most encouraging growth in 2017
- Understanding the impact of the government’s push for privatisation, financial sector consolidation and the state of Russia’s financial sector going into 2017
- Examine the impact of Bexit on Russia-British business developments
- Russia has been striving to enact more business friendly legislation, but when will businesses be able to notice this in their daily operations
Uncovering the opportunities that exist for trade and export to Russia, especially via the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU)
THE PANEL (so far)
- Trevor Barton, Executive Director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce
- Tim McCarthy, Head of International Investment Management, Co-Chief Investment Officer, VTB Capital Investment Management
- Liam Halligan, Editor-at-large, bne IntelliNews (moderator)
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Trevor Barton, Executive Director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce
Biography: Trevor Barton is the Executive Director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce.
Trevor served as an officer in the Royal Navy throughout the 1980s, after which he spent 14 years as a solicitor and partner with the international law firm Clyde & Co. This included six years in the firm’s St Petersburg office in the 1990s. As a lawyer, he focussed on finance, cross-border trade and litigation. He subsequently ran the London office of The PBN Company, a consultancy specialising in financial public relations and corporate communications that worked primarily for clients across the CIS markets.
More recently Trevor has worked as a consultant to a number of companies in industry and the financial services sector, all of which have been looking to develop their businesses internationally. He speaks good Russian.
Tim McCarthy, Head of International Investment Management, Co-Chief Investment Officer, VTB Capital Investment Management
Biography: Tim McCarthy has 25 years of experience in financial markets. His portfolio management track records in a range of long-only and long/short equity and fixed-income funds and strategies span more than 18 years. Tim joined VTBC IM from Valartis Asset Management in Geneva, Switzerland, where he was the Head of Asset Management and the sole portfolio manager of three Russia & CIS Funds and two GEM funds. Prior to this, Tim was the CIO and PM at Red Star Asset Management, and before this he was the CIO and Senior PM at Troika Dialog Asset Management. Before coming to Russia in 1994, Tim was a Senior Consultant at Deloitte & Touche Management Consulting in New York. Tim has an MBA in Finance and a BS in Economics from the State University of New York.
Liam Halligan, editor-at-large, bne IntelliNews
Biography: Liam Halligan is an economist, columnist and broadcaster with extensive business experience. He has written his weekly Economics Agenda in The Sunday Telegraph since 2003 – which has been recognized with a British Press Award since 2003. Between 2007 and 2013, he was Chief Economist at Prosperity Capital Management.
IN ASSOCIATION WITH
bne intelliNews is a leading English-language source of economic, financial and political news and comment from the 34 countries of Eastern Europe, Russia/CIS, South-Eastern Europe and Central Asia. BNE’s network of 30 correspondents are among the best in the business, producing a stream of content for BNE’s website and monthly magazine.
The Russo-British Chamber of Commerce (RBCC) promotes, facilitates and supports business between Russia and the UK. It is independent of government in both countries and is funded by membership fees, and event and publication sponsorship. The RBCC aims to be the first point of contact for Russian companies wanting to do business in the UK and for British companies wanting to do business in Russia. RBCC is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee that has worked to promote trade and cooperation between the UK and Russia since 1916, helping companies in both countries to find trading partners and representing the interests of its member companies of all sizes.
The Russo-British Chamber of Commerce is proud to celebrate its Centenary this year. The Chamber will run a number of special events in 2016 to mark its Centenary, in addition to its standard range of events. Please do visit our website www.rbcc.com for more information.
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Details of previous bne IntelliNews debates on Russia can be found below:
Tuesday 27th January, 2015
“East-West Conflict, Temporary Lapse of New Normal?”, debate at Cass Business School, London
Conference Call: West needs new tactics to deal with Russia over Ukraine
Robert Anderson in London
Participants at a bne IntelliNews debate in London expressed frustration with the failure of Western sanctions over Ukraine to modify Russia’s behaviour so far, and some suggested it is time to try new tactics.
“We are reinforcing all the bad traits in Russia,” said Erik Berglof, director of the Institute for Global Affairs at the London School of Economics. “We need to find a way back. We need to find areas where there is a positive sum game. We need to find some kind of conversation where we can engage.”
The former chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said trade talks between the European Union and the new Eurasian Economic Union could offer such an area for a constructive conversation.
Ben Aris, chief editor of bne IntelliNews, argued that talks on a new strategic framework for Europe could also be worth trying, though Sir Rodric Braithwaite, former UK ambassador to Moscow, dismissed this as impractical in the current environment.
Most of the participants in the lively debate – entitled “East-West Conflict, Temporary Lapse or New Normal?” – held at Cass Business School on January 27, agreed that sanctions were seriously hurting Russia and should not be scaled back at the moment.
However, no one expected a quick resolution of the current East-West conflict and opinion was deeply divided on whether sanctions would ever be effective in forcing Russian President Vladimir Putin to modify his behaviour.
Edward Lucas of The Economist argued that it was too early to tell one way or the other, but sanctions needed to be made tougher to be effective. “If we really wanted to impose sanctions we would go after the Russian dirty money in the West,” he said, pointing out that this money meant “we [in the West] were riding first class in the Kremlin gravy train”.
Aris, by contrast, argued that sanctions were reinforcing Putin’s domestic position and were therefore counter-productive. “Sanctions will not change Putin’s mind at all,” he said, adding: “If anything [they] have only made him stronger.”
This split partly reflected a difference over the end-goal. Lucas and Sir Andrew Wood, another former UK ambassador to Moscow, argued that the goal must be to bring down Putin, while Aris and speakers from the floor warned of the risk that what came after might be even worse.
“The question is when will Russia begin to change its system of government and can it change it without a violent end?” summed up Sir Andrew.
There was more agreement on the need to bolster Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, which, if it works, could encourage change in Russia itself.
“The solution is much more about trying to do the right thing in Ukraine,” said Berglof. “If Ukraine manages to get through this very difficult transition… that is the road to real change in Russia itself.”
The other participants in the debate were Professor Michael Ben-Gad of City University, and Pippa Malmgren of advisers DRPM Group. The debate was moderated by Liam Halligan, editor at large for bne IntelliNews, and attended by around 100 participants.
Thursday 25th June, 2015
“Russia: Which Way Now?”, debate
Conference Call: Russia seen muddling through, with no reform on horizon
Henry Kirby, London
Russia’s wobbling economy will likely “muddle through the next couple of years,” according to panelists at a bne IntelliNews debate on June 25.
The event, entitled “Russia: Which Way Now”, held at Cass Business School in London, aimed to form a broad prognosis for Russia in light of the Western-led sanctions and external forces such as oil prices that have blighted its economic development over the last 12 months.
Panelist Renee Friedman, an emerging markets specialist, said that the obvious factors that will dictate a lot of Russia’s near future are oil prices and continued sanctions, which, she said, “aren’t going anywhere soon.” Any serious and sustainable progress hinges on regional and national structural reforms. However, the political will for that kind of change just does not exist right now, she added.
bne IntelliNews Editor-in-Chief Ben Aris described a “we’ve been here before” mood at this years St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). There were no big announcements, he said, and Putin was instead preoccupied with his geopolitical posturing with the West.
Former Kremlin advisor Valery Morozov pointed to the “tremendous difference in the pictures that Russians and the West see,” when a discussion of Putin occurs. Putin is not the engineer of tension that many in the West paint him to be: “he invents nothing – he only reacts,” Morozov explained.
A major oversight of the US and EU has been the failure to foresee the galvanizing effect that sanctions would have on Putin’s relationship with Russians. Aris noted that a recent study into brand awareness in Russia revealed Vladimir Putin to be the second most-admired brand in the country, after Google.
The debate came only a day after Putin recorded his highest-ever popularity rating, at 89%. The irony of this was not lost on Aris, who reminded the audience that Putin’s popularity has always been predicated on the notion that he brings prosperity. In this sense, Aris added, sanctions have been a “massive policy failure, strengthening Putin’s hand.”
The last couple of months have seen Russians adopt a “firm party line that sanctions are making [them] stronger,” panelist Tom Blackwell of EM Advisors said, citing a slow pivot to the East and the benefits of import substitutions. He was, though, quick to add that any benefits of sanctions are “long-term opportunities,” adding that the short term is still a “tricky game.”
The development of the Russia-China relationship is indeed well underway, according to Aris, who pointed out that 25% of bilateral trade with China is now settled in yuan, up from zero five years ago.
Russia will have more than enough time to cultivate its trade and finance links with China if Blackwell’s forecast for another year of sanctions proves correct. When asked by bne IntelliNews Editor-at-Large Liam Halligan – who also chaired the debate – if another 12 months of sanctions are likely, Blackwell said it would be “politically unacceptable” for the EU to withdraw them at this point.
State of the economy
When quizzed about Russia’s monetary policy in the coming months, Friedman predicted that there would be little to no movement in interest rates, which will directly affect small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the retail sector. This result would be contrary to the plans laid out by Putin at SPIEF, in which he pledged to make life easier for SMEs through tax breaks and an easing of the bureaucratic hurdles that they often face.
A key component of any recovery for Russia in 2015 and 2016 will be the protection of the ruble, Friedman said. While its depreciation over the last year – from roughly 32 this time last year to a high of 80 to the dollar in December – has been pronounced, the key now is stability, she added. Aris agreed – its recent rally has actually been damaging, he said, citing April and May’s year-on-year industrial production figures of -4.5 %and -5.5%, respectively as evidence of this.
Friedman came back to the theme of the need for reforms in her closing remarks, admitting that while she would love to be positive about prospects in Russia, she does not see the necessary reforms materializing any time soon.
Thomas Blackwell of EM Communications emphasized the need to have open discussions, free of emotion, in order to cool the current Russia-West tensions. Too often, he said, the geopolitical conversation regarding Russia is viewed in “black and white” terms.