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Friday, December 28, 2007

Exposing Russia's Sham Economy

The Motley Fool reports:

Today, I stumbled across one such theme over in my old stomping grounds: Russia. You've all heard that the Russian market is hot, hot, hot, right? ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) is sucking out its oil and gas. Ford (NYSE: F) and GM (NYSE: GM) are building a new Detroit on the Neva.

As the world's biggest oil producer, and the repository of its largest natural gas reserves, Russia is swimming in "petrorubles" -- petroleum traded in the Russian ruble. According to state media outlet RIA Novosti (RIA), incomes are up, too, with the average worker's "real wages" rising 15.1% in 2007.

Nice, huh? But according to another RIA report, inflation is eating up much, if not all, of that rising income. Non-foodstuffs suffered just 6.6% inflation in 2007, but the average price of services rose 13% in 2007, and food price inflation reached 16%. With much of the nation living in privatized apartments and paying state-subsidized rates for power and gas, that 16% number is the one to focus on. Once you take heat and shelter out of the picture, food looms large as the biggest remaining expense. What these numbers suggest to me is that in much of the country, "real" wages aren't growing at all, because inflation is siphoning away much of the new income.

If this is true, what might it mean to investors? In the big picture, it means the Russian economy isn't as strong as its current growth rates may suggest. But that doesn't mean the country isn't full of investing opportunities. In fact, in the first half of 2007, the net flow of foreign investments into Russia increased 150%, to more than $60 billion, compared to the first half of 2006.

Rising food prices are certainly an issue in the country and do present a threat to future growth. Yet, aside from inflationary pressures, the food retail industry has shown signs of significant growth because of the rising amounts of disposable income. According to a Russian Food and Non Food Retail Forecast report, retail food sales accounted for more than 46% of Russian retail sales in 2006.

Local producers such as juice-and-dairy manufacturer Wimm-Bill-Dann (NYSE: WBD) are one way to play the insatiable Russian appetite. And for more diversified investment vehicles that also have a hand in the Russian food markets check out McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), and PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP), which have been investing in Russia for some time.

Russia may be known for its lucrative oil and gas sector. But as the country becomes more stable and its population increases its wealth, investors should turn to food retailers associated with the Russian economy, as it is the fastest-growing retail food sales market in the world.


Anonymous said...

The end of cheap food is a global rather than Russia-specific phenomenon.

La Russophobe said...

If you had half a brain, you'd realize that your point only makes Russia's situation even more hopeless, since it can't control the price spiral.

The fact is that Russia's average wages are FAR below the average in developed countries, so (a) its people are far less well equipped to deal with inflation and (b) it's clear that something is very wrong with the Kremlin's policies, since low-wage people should be able to produce low-cost food. As always in Russia, however, it gets the worst of all possible worlds.

You're a really classic Russophile idiot, by the way. Thanks for giving us even more ammunition than we already had.