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In Emerging Markets, Russia Now a 'Haven'

For the first time this year, investors put more money into Russia funds last week than into funds focusing on Brazil, India or China. That means investors around the world are increasingly seeing Russia as a stable, potentially rewarding place to park their cash.

For the week ending Wednesday, $71 million flowed into investment funds focusing on Russia and the CIS, versus $69 million flowing into India funds, $63 million into China funds, and $20 million into Brazil funds, according to data released Friday by Emerging Portfolio Fund Research. The China funds include assets in Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as in mainland China.

"Russia is being identified as something of a haven," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank. "This is the first week this year when the Russian funds received more than the other countries in the BRIC category," which is composed of the fast-growing emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China and, many who are heavily invested in these markets say, will fuel future global development.

Cameron Brandt, global markets analyst at the U.S.-based Emerging Portfolio Fund Research, said the larger inflows into Russia funds show that individual investors are starting to see Russia as a more favorable place to invest.

The $71 million that flowed into Russian funds over the week does not include the money that fund managers have been allocating to Russian stocks and bonds through general emerging market funds, BRIC funds or other funds.

"With funds that invest over a broader range of countries, their managers have been quite happy to steer relatively large sums to Russia," Brandt said.

In this case, individual investors are coming back to Russia after hearing a stream of positive news over the summer.

The government announced last week that it had completely repaid its Paris Club debt ahead of schedule. The debt payments -- which had been rescheduled by the sovereign creditors after the 1998 default -- were seen as a reminder of the country's past financial troubles.

Analysts said some investors had been putting small portions of their portfolios in Russia as a hedge because of the fear that world commodity prices could continue their rise. Russian stocks -- highly correlated to oil and gas prices -- would benefit from a rise in commodity prices even as investments in more developed economies suffered losses.

Russian stocks could also benefit in the coming months from the country's significantly higher weighting in the MSCI Emerging Markets index, triggered by a doubling of Gazprom's share in the widely followed index. Managers of global emerging market funds may have to buy more than $1 billion in Gazprom shares to make sure that their funds continue to track the emerging markets benchmark, according to estimates provided by Citigroup.

Funds focused on Russia and the CIS started the year with $3.8 billion in assets and held $5.8 billion in assets as of last week, according to data from the funds tracked by Emerging Portfolio Fund Research. In early May, before the emerging markets correction that rattled stock markets around the world, Russia funds held more than $7 billion.

(The Moscow Times 28.viii.06)

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