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The bear comes to market

The Russians are coming. Already this year, companies domiciled in the former Soviet Union have raised more than £1.5bn from share issues through the London Stock Exchange and its junior, the Alternative Investment Market. Last year, the figure was £45bn.

Companies from the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan are having no problem raising money from institutional investors but have attracted far less attention from private buyers.

"There is a perception problem, a gap between the way things are in Russia and the way they are seen in the west," argues Oleg Biryulwov, manager of JP Morgan Fleming's Russian Securities investment trust, which has seen its share price rise from 200p to 400p over the last 12 months.

…official figures show the Russian economy growing 6%, beaten by Kazakhstan at between 8% and 9%, with the real growth is likely to be up to 2% higher.

Any company listing in the UK must comply with high standards of disclosure and corporate governance. "Our corporate clients see listing in the UK as a sign of quality, a standard to be achieved," says Trevor Barton, UK director of the PBN Company, which advises many of these companies on how to list in the UK.

Even within Russia, disclosure standards for companies listing on the exchanges are relatively robust.
"I would argue that they are higher than in many other developing economies," adds Biryulwov. The obvious comparison is with the People's Republic of China, where many foreign asset managers express caution over the quality of published company accounts.

"Russia … has a rapidly developing consumer sector," adds Biryulwov.

Past London IPOs include Pyaterochka, a food and pharmaceutical retailer, Rambler Media, which owns mobile phone networks, and a Russian language internet search engine.

There is also a small but notable group of UK-listed British-managed firms doing business in Russia and central Asia, such as Raven Russia, an AIM-listed commercial property development company with a market value of some £180m. It is building warehouse space across Russia, which is badly needed by its burgeoning consumer sector, and two-thirds of its shares are held by three big investment houses.

On the booming consumer sector, Biryulwov says: "In the medium term this is where we expect some spectacular growth in areas like retailing, white goods and the rest. Russia is getting these all at once, and Russians like to spend their money."

As for investing, the easiest route is through a fund like JP Morgan Fleming's or via a stockbroker. The most daring can open an account with a Moscow broker like Troika Dialogue or Alfa Bank. Most require a minimum investment of $10,000.

Source:  The Herald

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