After nearly two decades of negotiations, Russia is finally a member of the World Trade Organization (:WTO). This is a landmark event not only for Russia and its quest to remain a global power, but also for the global free-trade movement, as it finally brings the last G-20 member into the picture.
The ascension of Russia into the organization looks to liberalize trade policies in the nation, reducing tariffs on imported goods and decreasing protections for home-grown industries. The entry of Russia also looks to give outsize investors some level of recourse with Russian trade practices and generally make the country have a more favorable climate for foreign investment (read Is Now The Time To Buy Russia ETFs?).
The “WTO accession is a major step for Russia’s further integration into the world economy,” European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in an e-mailed statement. “It will facilitate investment and trade, help to accelerate the modernization of the Russian economy and offer plenty of business opportunities for both Russian and European companies.”
While this might sound like an undeniably good thing for Russia, there are still some concerns over the nation and its economy now that it is in the WTO. Many Russian firms are hopelessly corrupt, inefficient, or otherwise unprepared for global competition. These companies could be in for a rough ride as duties are slashed on foreign imports over the next few months and years (read Why Russia ETFs Are Not A Debt Crisis Safe Haven).
Some investors and economists are skeptical that the WTO will have the same transformative effect on Russia that the organization had on China. Russia doesn’t have anywhere near the size of cheap labor pools that China has, so it is questionable what segments foreign investors will come into in the near future.
Fortunately, there is a plus side to this situation as well though. The cheaper products, thanks to foreign competition, will likely lower prices for consumers in a number of key segments. This will put more rubles back in the pockets of everyday Russians and could create a small consumer boom as a result.
Furthermore, once Russian firms get back up to international standards, they will be more easily able to tap into lucrative European markets right at their doorstep. Plus with the added investor protections and complaint process that goes with WTO membership, some sectors could see a foreign investment boost, driving up stock prices across the board in the country.
After all, Russia remains an interesting emerging market that is unlike any of the other three major BRIC economies. Russia is far wealthier on average and its immense hydrocarbon reserves make the country an energy superpower (see Play an Oil Bull with These Three Emerging Market ETFs).
Still, the nation is very corrupt and inefficient, suggesting that it needs a boost in order to compete for investing dollars when put up against its more quickly growing and dynamic emerging market peers. Hopefully, the WTO membership will be the spark that Russia needs to get this process underway, helping the country to become a great investing destination much like the rest of the BRIC bloc (see more in the Zacks ETF Center).
For investors seeking to make a play on Russia, there are few ETF options which we have briefly highlighted below. While all target Russia, they do so in slightly different ways in terms of market weights, number of holdings, expenses and sector exposure. Still all have a heavy focus on the basic materials industries although this could change if the WTO helps Russia get its act together over the long term:
- Market Vectors Russia ETF (RSX)- This fund from Van Eck is easily the most popular in the Russia ETF space, having amassed more than $1.8 billion in AUM and trading nearly five million shares a day. While the product has a heavy focus on energy—the sector makes up 40% of the assets—holdings are relatively well spread out among component firms with eight companies making up at least 5% of assets.
- iShares MSCI Russia Capped Index Fund (ERUS) - This fund is currently the cheapest choice in the Russia ETF world, charging investors 58 basis points a year in fees. Energy firms account for nearly 55% of the portfolio, while basic materials and financials combine to account for another 25% of ERUS as well.
- SPDR S&P Russia ETF (RBL) - This relatively new Russia ETF is pretty low cost but doesn’t have that great of volume at roughly 44,000 shares a day. Furthermore the product is heavily concentrated in a few names like Gazprom and Lukoil as these two make up nearly 40% of assets by themselves, suggesting that they will be big drivers of RBL’s return.
- Market Vectors Russia Small-Cap ETF (RSXJ) - This Market Vectors product is the only one that focuses in on small caps from the country, offering a different cap level of exposure than many of the other products on this list. Industrials are the top sector, but they are closely trailed by energy (22%), and basic materials (12%) in the fund’s 31 stock portfolio.
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