Topic: ETFs

Russia ETF reflects country’s significant risk

Russia LISTEN:  

Declining commodity prices and international sanctions have hurt the Russian economy. But despite that, the country has proved surprisingly resilient. The economy is on a modest growth path, government finances are in reasonable shape, inflation is under control and the currency has stabilized.

Here is one ETF that provides exposure to the top Russian public companies.

VANECK VECTORS RUSSIA ETF $20.08 (New York symbol RSX; TSINetwork ETF Rating: Aggressive; Market cap: $1.5 billion) tracks the MVIS Russia Index, which includes publicly traded companies that are incorporated in Russia or that are incorporated outside of Russia but have at least 50% of their revenues/related assets in Russia.

Energy firms account for 41% of its assets, with commodities at 23%; Financial Services, 12%; Consumer Defensive, 8%; and Technology, 7.0%.

The ETF holds a portfolio of 27 stocks; the top 10 holdings make up a high 56% of its assets. They include Sberbank of Russia (banking, 7.5%), Gazprom (natural gas, 7.4%), Lukoil (oil and gas, 6.5%), Tatneft (oil and gas, 6.0%), Novatek (gas, 6.0%), Norilsk Nickel (5.3%), and Rosneft Oil (4.7%).

The fund started up in April 2007 and charges an MER of 0.66%. With an average of $148 million in units trading daily, the fund provides good liquidity.

The ETF has a low p/e of 5.5 based on the forward earnings of the stocks it holds. It pays a fluctuating annual dividend, which totalled $1.08 for 2018. It yields a high 5.4%.

The modern state known as Russia took its form with the establishment of the Tsardom of Russia in 1283. The country existed as an agriculture-based monarchy until the winter of 1917, when the collective forces of economic collapse, war weariness and the systemic oppression of the peasant classes resulted in the Russian Revolution.

Following the revolution, power was seized by the communist Bolshevik party after numerous policies enacted by the more-moderate replacement government failed to alleviate economic woes.

In 1922, the Soviet Union was formed. Over the next seven decades, it expanded the nation’s borders, played a pivotal role in the Second World War and faced off against the U.S. during the Cold War.

In 1991, costly arms and space races, combined with the economic stagnation of the 1980s, led to the fall of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Russian Federation.

The first decade of transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy was disastrous for Russia—gross domestic product (GDP) fell by over 60%. In an attempt to address the economic turmoil, the government began the large-scale privatization of many Russian industries during the 1990s.

In 2000, Vladimir Putin became president and has effectively held the office since then (with a term being served by his head of staff, Dimitri Medvedev). He has steadily strengthened the powers of the presidential office, including direct economic influence, media control, and state security.

Russia is the largest country in the world by land mass and has a population in excess of 144 million. Its labour force of 77 million people is large, with an average unemployment rate of 5.2%.

The economy is also one of the world’s largest, but it’s heavily dependent on commodity prices, especially oil and gas. This makes the country vulnerable to boom and bust cycles that follow swings in global resource prices.

Economic growth, which averaged 7% between 1998 and 2008 as oil prices rose rapidly, has slowed due to the global financial crisis in 2008-2009 and declining commodity prices.

Falling oil prices and international sanctions in response to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 pushed Russia into a deep recession in 2015 and 2016, with GDP falling by 3.0% over those two years. After a recovery in 2017, growth forecasts for 2018 to 2020 range from 1.5% to 1.8%.

The economy is largely dependent on oil and gas extraction, and other services (62%) followed by industrial (32%) and agriculture (5%). Government consumption is equal to 18% of the economy and exports, 26%.

Russia’s non-energy export growth has outpaced energy since 2014, contributing to the diversification of the economy. However, oil and gas still totals a huge 59% of exports and 25% of government revenue.

Despite the economic recession in 2015 and 2016, government finances are in reasonable order, with a budget deficit of 1.4% of GDP. Government public debt to GDP is low at 16% leaving the country with an investment-grade credit rating from both S&P and Fitch.

The latest rate of inflation was measured at 3.8%—down from the 11.2% reached in December 2014.

In late 2014, the Russian Central Bank un-pegged the ruble from a dual-currency (U.S. dollar and euro) basket, ending two decades of exchange rate controls and moving Russia to a free-floating exchange rate system. The currency took a dramatic fall to an all-time low in January 2016, as oil prices fell to lows not seen in over a decade. Since then, the ruble has gradually stabilized.

The central bank also reduced its policy rate from 17% in December 2014 to the current 7.75% as inflation moderated and the currency stabilized.

Over the past five years, the ETF has lost 11.2%—in sharp contrast to a gain of 31.4% for the MSCI World Equity Index. The weak performance of energy prices has been a major contributor to this slump.

As well, like many emerging markets, Russia has dropped lately. That’s because a growing U.S. economy and rising interest rates have pushed up the U.S. dollar. This typically results in capital flowing to the U.S. from emerging markets. That, in turn, hurts foreign investments in those economies.

The ETF’s heavy weighting in energy and other commodities is a big risk factor. However, a resource rebound would spur the fund higher—as would improved international relations.

For highly aggressive investors who want exposure to Russia, and are willing to accept considerable risks, the VanEck Vectors Russia ETF holds the top stocks.


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