The double-headed eagle that features on Russia’s coat of arms is said to reflect its geographical position, facing both East and West. Maybe a more apt interpretation is Russia’s continued dominance in the old economy while thriving in the new.
In our view, Russia is in an enviable position when looking at a number of fundamental factors; it has very little sovereign debt, a current-account surplus and considerable foreign exchange reserves of US$570 billion, equivalent to 33% of its gross domestic product (GDP).1
Oil—an old economy sector—is Russia’s bread and butter, representing 35% of its GDP and 70% of exports. Therefore, it’s fortunate that Russia enjoys a number of advantages over many (or most of) its international peers such as low cost of production, costs denominated in local currency and—perhaps driven out of necessity from years of sanctions—a keen interest in developing its own technology to improve efficiency.
Take one of Russia’s top tier vertically integrated oil companies. It benefits from a strong balance sheet, long-term reserves estimated to be more than 18 years and is free cash flow positive with oil priced at just US$15 a barrel. Furthermore, it operates in a progressive-tax-regime environment, so when the price of oil declines, the government bears the cost and margins are almost unchanged.
In recent years, the company has been embracing technology and innovation through its own research and development lab, investing in upgrading its refineries and developing techniques to improve efficiencies and drive down costs.
New Economy Thriving
Elsewhere in Russia, the new economy is thriving. Russia’s leading bank, originally founded in 1841 by order of the Russian Tsar Nikolai I, is steeped in history but today claims to “compete with global technology firms, whilst remaining the first choice bank for retail and corporate clients.”
Certainly, from a traditional banking perspective, it appears impressive, as it reports that it services 70% of Russia’s population of around 92 million people through 15,000 branches.
But it is so much more than a traditional bank. Its digital ecosystem incorporates artificial intelligence (AI), big data and robotization. Already it reports that 40% of client queries are solved by its chat box, and it has created its own private cloud and collaborated with others to offer services such as video streaming, e-education, restaurant bookings and ride sharing.
Similarly, Russia’s leading search engine has built an impressive ecosystem. Already successfully competing with Google, it offers services such as e-commerce, ride sharing and online music in a similar fashion to Apple Music. Initiatives include a Russian version of Netflix with a plan to create its own content, and it is even developing autonomous cars.
So, we pose the question: Should outdated perceptions of Russia be revised?
It would seem that in addition to its continued dominance in the old economy of oil, Russia appears to offer a compelling investment pool for those wanting to ride the structural tailwind of the new reality where consumption and technology offer tomorrow’s drivers of growth.
Important Legal Information
This material is intended to be of general interest only and should not be construed as individual investment advice or a recommendation or solicitation to buy, sell or hold any security or to adopt any investment strategy. It does not constitute legal or tax advice.
The views expressed are those of the investment manager and the comments, opinions and analyses are rendered as of publication date and may change without notice. The information provided in this material is not intended as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any country, region or market.
Data from third party sources may have been used in the preparation of this material and Franklin Templeton (“FT”) has not independently verified, validated or audited such data. FT accepts no liability whatsoever for any loss arising from use of this information and reliance upon the comments, opinions and analyses in the material is at the sole discretion of the user.
The companies and case studies shown herein are used solely for illustrative purposes; any investment may or may not be currently held by any portfolio advised by Franklin Templeton. The opinions are intended solely to provide insight into how securities are analyzed. The information provided is not a recommendation or individual investment advice for any particular security, strategy, or investment product and is not an indication of the trading intent of any Franklin Templeton managed portfolio. This is not a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any industry, security or investment and should not be viewed as an investment recommendation. This is intended to provide insight into the portfolio selection and research process. Factual statements are taken from sources considered reliable, but have not been independently verified for completeness or accuracy. These opinions may not be relied upon as investment advice or as an offer for any particular security. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Products, services and information may not be available in all jurisdictions and are offered outside the U.S. by other FT affiliates and/or their distributors as local laws and regulation permits. Please consult your own financial professional or Franklin Templeton institutional contact for further information on availability of products and services in your jurisdiction.
Issued in the U.S. by Franklin Templeton Distributors, Inc., One Franklin Parkway, San Mateo, California 94403-1906, (800) DIAL BEN/342-5236, franklintempleton.com—Franklin Templeton Distributors, Inc. is the principal distributor of Franklin Templeton’s U.S. registered products, which are not FDIC insured; may lose value; and are not bank guaranteed and are available only in jurisdictions where an offer or solicitation of such products is permitted under applicable laws and regulation.
What Are the Risks?
All investments involve risks, including possible loss of principal. Stock prices fluctuate, sometimes rapidly and dramatically, due to factors affecting individual companies, particular industries or sectors, or general market conditions. Special risks are associated with foreign investing, including currency fluctuations, economic instability and political developments; investments in emerging markets involve heightened risks related to the same factors. To the extent a strategy focuses on particular countries, regions, industries, sectors or types of investment from time to time, it may be subject to greater risks of adverse developments in such areas of focus than a strategy that invests in a wider variety of countries, regions, industries, sectors or investments. Investments in securities of Russian issuers involve legal risks that are specific to Russia, including certain legal, regulatory, political and economic risks.
1. Source: Nations-Unies, Perspectives de la population mondiale, données de 2019.