5 More Reasons You Should Worry About War in Ukraine

"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English)."
-- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 

In Ukraine as in Wonderland, the news out of Crimea just gets curiouser and curiouser. Over the weekend, Russian troops crossed the border out of the breakaway region and into Ukraine proper, seizing control of a natural gas distribution station in the Ukrainian village of Strilkove. Meanwhile, back on the peninsula, regional vice premier Rustam Temirgaliyev finally admitted what everyone has known for weeks -- and which Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to deny -- that "Yes, we have Russian troops in Crimea."


"Bazinga!" Photo credit: www.kremlin.ru.

And with those troops still in-country and armed to the teeth, Crimea has reportedly just wrapped up a regionwide referendum. The result of this "free and fair" poll: an 85% turnout, with 93% voting in favor of seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia instead.

In short, far from "de-escalating," the Crisis in Crimea is starting to look permanent -- and indeed, may expand beyond the borders of Crimea. This bad news helped stocks on the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average suffer their worst declines in nearly two months -- and this could be only the beginning.

Two weeks ago, at the start of this crisis, we ran down five ways the conflict between Ukraine and Russia could affect your portfolio. Two weeks into the crisis, with new facts in hand, we're back to update that advice with five more predictions. Here goes.

Manufacturing
Trade between Russia and the U.S. passed $38 billion in value last year, and much of that could be at risk if the Obama administration follows through on threats to punish Russia's land-grab in Crimea with trade sanctions. Even worse for investors, Russia has promised to retaliate against such sanctions, potentially hurting U.S. companies that have made direct investments in the country.

Major U.S. manufacturers such as Ford (NYSE: F  ) and General Motors have invested more than $10 billion directly in Russia. Ford, for example, manufactures Focus and Mondeo automobiles at its plant in St. Petersburg and is in the process of building a new $274 million engine plant in the Russian region of Tatarstan. GM set up its first factory in St. Pete as well -- a $300 million, 98,000-cars-annually assembly plant -- and up until this crisis began, it was expanding its joint venture with AvtoVAZ in Togliatti.


Ford has a Focus on Russian business. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Banking
One of the likeliest targets for U.S. trade sanctions would be cutting ties with Russian banks in an attempt to constrict Russia's access to foreign capital. This holds immediate implications for banking giant Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) . The U.S. bank with the most exposure to the country, Citigroup serves more than 3,000 institutional customers in Russia, has a retail customer base of 1 million and operates 50 bank branches in a dozen Russian cities. Citigroup earns about $300 million annually in Russia -- for now.

Oil and gas
Closer to Crimea proper, a consortium of companies including Italian energy producer Eni (NYSE: E  ) recently signed a $4 billion investment deal with Ukraine to develop underwater gas fields off the western coast of Crimea. A "production sharing agreement," this deal was made with the Ukrainian government as a party, however. If Crimea is leaving Ukraine, the legal validity of the deal could be questioned -- and Eni could lose its 50% stake in the project.

Steel -- again
ArcelorMittal
(NYSE: MT  ) is a bit trickier. Last time we looked at the stock, we mentioned how its operations might be disrupted by conflict in eastern Ukraine, hurting global steel supplies and driving up prices. Instead -- the opposite may happen. Last week, Arcelor warned that while it's still producing plenty of steel, steel usage in Ukraine has dropped like a rock, as companies delay construction projects to see how the conflict with Russia plays out.

Result: Arcelor's steel is being diverted to international markets, potentially increasing supply and driving prices down. (Curiouser and curiouser, indeed.)

Military suppliers
Finally, we turn to the defense contractors. This week, Ukrainian leaders made impassioned pleas to the U.S. for military assistance. Asked to supply guns and ammo, the Obama administration agreed only to send food aid, fearing that sending weapons to Ukraine might offend Russia.

But as we saw with Arcelor, this situation is fluid. The U.S. has a history of providing surplus weaponry to bolster the militaries of allied nations -- offering two dozen old F-16 fighter jets to Romania in 2010, for example, and sending 400 used M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks to Greece in 2011 -- all free of charge.

But "free" isn't always what it seems. In the F-16 deal, for example, Romania was expected to spend $1.3 billion upgrading its fighter jets to modern standards. That's money in the bank for Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) . Potentially, if Russia fails to back down in Ukraine, we could soon see Congress approve similar sales of military hardware -- to Ukraine, to Georgia (which has had issues with Russia in the past), and to other border states such as Estonia or Latvia, which also wish to strengthen their defenses.

The risk to investors? Shorting defense contractors in the middle of a new cold war.


Lockheed Martin's F-16 fighters -- headed to the front lines soon? Photo: Lockheed Martin.

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Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (5)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2014, at 4:15 AM, amvet wrote:

    This article is classic indisinformation. Putin never denied that there were Russian troops in the Ukraine. They have been there for years as part of an agreement with the Ukraine. There is no evidence that new troops came in.

    Clear evidence is known that the US financed ($5 billion or more) the coup in the Ukraine. Our Ms. Nuland (F**k the EU.) announced our selection of the new leader months before he came to power. The Estonian Foreign Minister told Ms. Ashton that our guys were behind the shooting and killing of both police and demonstrators, etc. What is the most courious is the almost total dishonesty of the "free press".

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2014, at 9:21 AM, TMFDitty wrote:

    Ahem:

    ВОПРОС: Владимир Владимирович, можно уточнить? Люди, которые осуществляли блокирование частей украинской армии в Крыму, – в форме, очень похожей на российскую военную форму. Это были российские солдаты, это были российские военные?

    В.ПУТИН: А Вы посмотрите на постсоветское пространство. Там полно формы, которая похожа на форму… Пойдите в магазин у нас, и вы купите там любую форму.

    ВОПРОС: Но это были российские солдаты или нет?

    В.ПУТИН: Это были местные силы самообороны.

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2014, at 9:26 AM, TMFDitty wrote:

    And from Defense Minister Shoigu:

    "Конечно, провокация", — сказал он, отвечая на вопрос журналистов. А комментируя появившиеся видео, на которых военные говорят, что они якобы россияне, Шойгу ответил: "Да, нет, чушь полная".

    Not that this affects the investing case one whit, but both President Putin and his defense minister are clearly on record denying that the troops patrolling Crimean streets and blockading Ukrainian military bases, are Russian.

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