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3 Reasons to Invest in the Russian Stock Market Right Now

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Who’d have thought the Russian stock market would be the place to put some of your cash, especially now that Moscow just annexed part of another sovereign country and the threat of wider conflict between Russia and Ukraine may be looming?

Because of the volatility of the situation, Russian investors have begun to flee their own stocks; to date, a falling ruble and other economic problems there have led to a 20 percent reduction in the Russian stock market.

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Which is precisely why now might be the time to get in, say U.S. investors.

“[The] sell-off has taken the market to technically extreme oversold levels,” Jacob Nell of Morgan Stanley wrote in an investor’s note March 4, when the crisis was just beginning.

“Valuation multiples have only been cheaper at the depths of the 2008 crisis (when earnings fell by 60%). And oil markets are stable in contrast to sell-offs in Russia historically. Despite the obvious hit to growth expectations implied by the crisis, any sign that tensions are beginning to de-escalate would constitute a buying opportunity.”

Granted, cheap valuations don’t mean that returns will be quick, but you get the idea.

With the Crimea vote for independence and annexation into the Russian federal now past, U.S. market conditions are improving. Wall Street is rising steadily once again after comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled that tensions over Ukraine would likely abate.

“What had been going on in the Ukraine has been weighing on the minds of investors for a while, so it is a relief that we are apparently moving beyond this,” said Joseph Tanious, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management in New York.

“While from an economic standpoint the Ukraine doesn’t have a major impact on the global economy, there were worries about more tension between Russia and western powers, and how far this kind of standoff could go.”

Something to think about moving forward as regards your investment portfolio. Virtually all major global events affect markets.

Yet two days ago the White House issued a warning amid U.S. sanctions which froze assets of both Russian and Ukrainian nationals. Today, Russia responded with sanctions of its own against top U.S. officials, barring them from entering the country.

John McCain brushed off the sanctions with a joke, ”I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, my Gazprom stock is lost, and my secret bank account in Moscow is frozen.”

However, speculation over Russian ruble and stock markets in Europe and Russia continue. Over the past few days, investors have been eying the ruble and Russian markets which rallied despite the increased tensions and warning issued by White House Spokesman Jay Carney:

REPORTER: The Russian stock market has been soaring the past couple of days. Is this a sign that the sanctions are ineffective if they’re not really paying a cost? And the reality is it’s up about eight-, nine-percent the last couple of days, their main stock exchange.

JAY CARNEY: I think it’s down for the year, and I think the ruble has lost its value, and I think that he long-term effect of actions taken by the Russian government in clear violation of the United Nations charter, in clear violation of its treaty commitments, that are destabilizing and illegal will have an impact on their economy. All by themselves. They will also incur costs because of the sanctions that we and the EU have imposed, and there will be more actions taken under the authorities that exist with the two executive orders that the president has signed. So I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t, if I were you, invest in Russian equities right now… unless you’re going short.

While the White House tends to avoid commenting on shifts in financial markets, Carney said U.S. and European sanctions, compounded by Russia’s aggressive takeover of Crimea, will hurt Russia’s economy.

However, with risk comes opportunity. And “the riskier the stocks the better” says financial columnist and former management consultant Brett Arends.

Arends provides three reasons why he is going to invest in Russia despite the fact that it is a corrupt dictatorship embroiled in international crisis with its leader risking isolation and embargo.

1. The Moscow stock market is just on the cusp of a rare and exclusive club.

The 60% club, reserved for asset classes which have fallen more than 60% from their all-time peak. The Moscow market plunged on Monday in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Crimea and the potential for a war over the Ukraine. Stocks had already fallen a long way in the preceding few years. This week saw panic.

The Russian market is down 59%, in US dollar terms, from the all-time high seen in the spring of 2008, according to market data firm MSCI.

Even better? Russian small cap stocks nearly entered the 80% club. On Monday, they were down 78% from their peak in December 2007.

These really are rare clubs. Past members of the 60% club include Las Vegas real estate (2011), gold bullion (2000), the Nasdaq Composite index (2002), and the Nikkei 225 (2001).

Cue the Bennett Rule, named for my old friend Peter Bennett, a veteran and highly successful money manager at Walker Crips in London: Always take a wager on a durable asset class (i.e., not, say, Pets.com) when it joins the 60% Club. Over the following five years you will almost always make a handsome profit.

It’s rough and ready, but there is sense to it. When an asset has fallen that far, it’s usually oversold. The market has given up and lost interest. Naturally it doesn’t always work, and things can go down quite a way further before bottoming out. A few very rare assets join the 80% club. One or two join the 90%. But if you hang on, it really doesn’t matter.

2. Everyone else is too afraid to.

Look around. Are you seeing lots of money managers and analysts buying and recommending Russian stocks? Of course not. That’s the point. They’re too afraid.

You didn’t see these people being bullish of, say, gold at $250 an ounce, or Las Vegas real estate in 2011, or Greek stocks in 2012.

The comedian John Cleese once said the typical Englishman’s highest ambition was to go through life without ever being embarrassed. Money managers and Wall Street analysts are in the same boat. Embarrassment is professional death.

And, all other things being equal, when so many people are constrained from being bullish it would tend to make an asset underpriced.

3. They are cheap.

The Russian market trades on just five times forecast earnings, according to estimates. Small company stocks, which have fallen further, seem even cheaper. Of the top holdings in the Market Vectors small cap Russian fund, several are just three times forecast earnings.

The world market trades on 15 times forecast earnings, and United States stocks 17 times, according to estimates.

Yes, there are plenty of risks. But that is a major reason the stocks are already so cheap.

When we buy a share we are just buying a share of a company’s future cash flow. That’s it. And, by definition, the less we pay for each dollar of future cashflow, the better the deal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a solvent company’s stock trade on three times forecast earnings before.

Remember this is still speculation and you should probably consult your portfolio manager before taking the leap into the Russian market.

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US Vows 100% Tariffs on French Champagne, Cheese, Handbags Over Digital tax

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Image via Shutterstock
By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal

The US government on Monday said it may slap punitive duties of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion in imports from France of Champagne, handbags, cheese and other products, after concluding that France’s new digital services tax would harm US tech companies.

The US Trade Representative’s office said its “Section 301” investigation found that the French tax was “inconsistent with prevailing principles of international tax policy, and is unusually burdensome for affected US companies,” including Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.com.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the government was exploring whether to open similar investigations into the digital services taxes of Austria, Italy and Turkey.

“The USTR is focused on countering the growing protectionism of EU member states, which unfairly targets US companies,” Lighthizer said. His statement made no mention of proposed digital taxes in Canada or Britain.

The US trade agency said it would collect public comments through Jan. 14 on its proposed tariff list as well as the option of imposing fees or restrictions on French services, with a public hearing scheduled for January 7.

It did not specify an effective date for the proposed 100% duties.

CHAMPAGNE, ROUGE AND GRUYERE

The list targets some products that were spared from 25 percent tariffs imposed by the United States over disputed European Union aircraft subsidies, including sparkling wines, handbags and make-up preparations – products that would hit French luxury goods giant and cosmetics maker L’Oreal hard.

Gruyere cheese, also spared from the USTR aircraft tariffs levied in October, featured prominently in the list of French products targeted for 100 percent duties, along with numerous other cheeses.

The findings won favor from US lawmakers and US tech industry groups, who have long argued that the tax unfairly targets US firms.

“The French digital services tax is unreasonable, protectionist and discriminatory,” Senators Charles Grassley and Ron Wyden, the top Republican and Democrat, respectively, on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a joint statement.

Spokespeople for the French embassy and the European Union delegation in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.

But prior to the release of the USTR’s report, a French official said that France would dispute the trade agency’s findings, repeating Paris’ contention that the digital tax is not aimed specifically at US technology companies.

“We will not give up on taxation” of digital firms, the official said.

France’s 3 percent levy applies to revenue from digital services earned by firms with more than €25 million ($27.86 million) in French revenue and €750 million (£644 million) worldwide.

The USTR’s report and proposed tariff list follow months of negotiations between French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over a global overhaul of digital tax rules.

The two struck a compromise in August at a G7 summit in France that would refund US firms the difference between the French tax and a new mechanism being drawn up through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But Trump never formally endorsed that deal and declined to say whether his French tariff threat was off the table.

Reuters

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Andrew Yang Wants You to Make Money Off Your Data by Making it Your Personal Property

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Andrew Yang, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, plans to regulate the tech industry by prioritizing in giving people the right to own their personal data (“data as a property right”), thus allowing them to make money by sharing it with companies. Currently, companies entirely own users’ data – users do not have much control over it.

Yang said, “our data is now worth more than oil” and gave emphasis to the great amount of data people create and how companies make money over it. “By implementing measures to increase transparency in the data collection and monetization process, individuals can begin to reclaim ownership of what’s theirs,” he said.

He also cited a report saying that the collection and use of Americans’ personal data has become a $198 billion industry. Yang believes that people should have more control over their data, such as being able to see how their data is being used and having the freedom to opt out if they choose.

Yang added that we need politicians “who understand technology and a modern way to regulate it,” as reported by Engadget. “In order to regulate technology effectively, our government needs to understand it. It’s embarrassing to see the ignorance some members of Congress display when talking about technology, and anyone who watched Congress question Mark Zuckerberg is well aware of this,” said Yang.

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Never Underestimate the Power of Your “Little Enemies”: Wal-Mart and Whole Foods Learned that lesson Big Time as Their Stocks dropped Last Quarter

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Aldi’s, a successful discount supermarket chain, has been around for a long time and with multiple locations throughout the country. Since they opened their doors in 1910, not too much has changed for the company other than growth and more revenue. The company recently announced their plans to expand their organic food department, by adding more gluten-free foods, organic food brands, and get rid of some artificial ingredients from their products in an attempt to attract more consumers who want shop for healthy alternatives.

Consumers love going to Aldi’s because of their competitive low prices, in direct competition with other big chains like Wal-Mart. According to a recent price check, Aldi’s products are about 30% cheaper than Wal-Mart’s. Another company that Aldi’s may be a threat to is 365 by Whole Foods Market, which is expected to open later this year.

Whole Foods understands that if they are going to make such a change, now is as great of a time as any. The company has already started to get rid of partially dehydrogenated oil, synthetic colors, and MSG’s from all of their private-label products — which accounts for about 90% of their total revenue.

Aldi is also planning on expanding a selection of organic meats, including their “Never Any” brand which has no added hormones, animal by-products, antibiotics, or other additives. Their SimplyNature line, which is completely free of over 125 ingredients, will also see more products, since it’s already so popular. Their dairy section will also see more products, with products such as sour cream, cottage cheese and yogurt.

The company is truly taking the “go big or go home” saying quite seriously since they began to offer “fancier” or higher classed foods like quinoa, coconut oil, and smoked salmon. All of these little yet big changes will enable the company to not only go head to head with Whole Foods, but Kroger’s. They too have started to step up and expand their organic product line, Simple Truth.

Altogether, Aldi’s has over 1,500 stores based in the US, but they plan on increasing it to 2,000 over the next two years as a part of a $3 billion expansion.

Both Aldi’s and their company’s foreign rival discounter, Lidl, has started to seize the grocery market in a similar fashion in the United Kingdom. The pair is forcing a lot of the nation’s biggest supermarkets to reduce their prices dramatically and cut off many employees in an attempt to remain in the game and stay relevant in the competition for customers. Andy Clarke, CEO of Asda, UK’s second biggest grocery chain, called this new game of fresh competition, created by Lidl and Aldi’s, “the worst storm in the history of retail.” It was not too long after Aldo and Lidl joined forces that the Wal-Mart owned company reported its worst drop in sales for the quarter to ever occur.

Aldi’s believes that keeping all their products at an affordable and low price is the best edge they have. They can keep their prices so low by limited inventory to a lean selection of private-label items. They do the opposite from the traditional supermarkets which tend to carry a multitude of brands, even on just a single product. Aldi’s also invests far less in both merchandising and customer service compared to their counterparts. A lot of Aldi’s products are displayed in their shipping cartons as a way to make restocking simpler and more efficient. Doing that translates as fewer workers those companies needed on the sales floor. Aldi’s also asks that their customers bring their own shopping bags with them and bag their own products, further reducing need for more staff.

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