How to Invest in and Analyze Russian Stocks

Invest in Russia with Confidence

Historical Museum, St.Basil Cathedral, Red Square, Kremlin in Moscow
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Russia has become a premier emerging market and member of the so-called BRIC nations following its explosive 700 percent growth between 2001 and 2006. Driven by large crude oil reserves and moves towards free-market initiatives, the country became a popular destination for many investors. The country's military intervention in Ukraine and a downturn in commodity prices have hurt its prospects in 2014 and beyond, but investors should still keep an eye on this $1.3 trillion economy.

Stocks in Russia are traded on the Russian Trading System (RTS), which was established in 1995 as Russia's first regulated stock market. Since then, the exchange has expanded to include a full range of financial instruments ranging from cash equities to commodity futures. The RTS stock exchange markets are open from 10:00 until 11:50 Moscow time (GMT+3) and securities are traded in Russian Rubles.

How to Buy Russian Stocks

The easiest way to gain exposure to the Russian stock market is by purchasing U.S.-traded mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or American Depository Receipts (ADRs). Since these are traded on U.S. exchanges, investors can avoid the complexities and risks associated with investing directly, such as tax concerns, execution risk, and strange trading hours.

Some popular Russian funds and ADRs include:

  • Voya Russia Fund (Mutual Fund: LETRX)
  • Market Vector Russia ETF Trust (NYSE: RSX)
  • Gazprom OAO (ADR) (Pink Sheets: OGZPY)

For those seeking more direct access, many U.S. brokerages offer direct access to Russia's RTS, but often charge higher commissions for international trades. Meanwhile, those looking for full-service Russian brokerages also have many options, including the country's largest brokerage, FINAM, although there are some key regulatory hurdles to pass to setup an account.

How to Analyze Russian Stocks

Investors that choose to invest in Russian ETFs or mutual funds will want to look at the country's economic health before making an investment decision. A wide array of information on this subject, including current events analysis and economic data, can be found on the World Bank's website. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also provides valuable economic data.

Macroeconomic factors to consider include:

  • Credit Ratings: The country's credit rating represents the likelihood of a default on sovereign debt, which could have a negative impact on both bonds and equities.
  • Growth Rates: The country's economic growth rate is a good indication of how much growth investors can expect to see from stocks within the economy.

Investors that choose to invest directly in Russia's RTS can analyze stocks using the English version of the RTS website. From there, investors can find a link to the public company's website where annual reports and other important disclosures can typically be found. These reports are helpful when evaluating individual stocks or bonds rather than the broad economy.

Company specific factors to consider include:

  • Valuations: How does a company or fund's valuation compare to domestic equities or other emerging market options?
  • Financial Performance: Have a company or fund's earnings been growing over time? Do the companies offer a dividend?

Investors should consider both macro and micro economic factors when evaluating an investment, as well as how the investment compares with other investments in their portfolio. For example, Russia's economy may have contracted 0.2 percent in 2015, but the country's equity market may have appreciated if these losses were better than expected.

Risks Associated with Russian Stocks

Russia has become a risky emerging market ever since its 2014 military intervention in Crimea, Ukraine, while its reliance on crude oil exports has made it vulnerable to a downturn. In addition, many investors are still waiting for key economic reforms to take place and make the market more transparent and easier to access for investors and it's uncertain if these things will ever materialize.

Some key risk factors to consider include:

  • Less Volatility and Transparency: The U.S. stock market is widely considered to be a safe-haven for investors, so most foreign markets tend to be both more volatile and less transparent in comparison, including Russia's equity market.
  • Exposure to Energy Markets: Since oil and gas makes up about half of Russia's revenues and more than 60 percent of its exports, most Russian ETFs hold as much as 40 percent of their assets in the energy sector, which translates to significant commodity risk.
  • Potential for Social Unrest: While the government has been working hard to implement social reforms, there are still many socioeconomic problems that could cause issues.
  • Depletion of Reserves: Russia has been quickly depleting its reserve funds moving into 2017, which could put the country at risk over the coming years.

Investors should consider these risks in the context of their individual portfolio. In a diversified portfolio, it might make sense to include exposure to Russian equities or bonds despite their higher risk. A diversified portfolio may increase long-term risk-adjusted returns.