The U.S. and the EU increased economic sanctions against Russia last week, due to the belief that Moscow is supporting the pro-Russian protesters responsible for the violence in Ukraine.
Russia is a commodities powerhouse and the sanctions, as well as the increased international dismay over Russia's potential involvement in Ukraine, have both negative and positive implications for resource-based stocks here in North America. Here are some of the potential winners and losers from the geopolitical tensions.
The latest round of sanctions directly targeted two major energy companies, Rosneft and the independent natural gas producer Novatek.
Shortly after the sanctions were announced Vladimir Putin said that the sanctions will hurt U.S. energy companies. One company that could feel the impact is ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM). ExxonMobil is currently engaged in a multi-billion dollar deal with Rosneft under which Exxon is allowed to develop oil fields in Russia.
Russia is a major supplier of natural gas to Western Europe. When the sanctions against Russia were announced, UK natural gas futures spiked. North American natural gas prices, however, had little response. The American and European natural gas markets are somewhat isolated for now, so pure North American producers won't likely see much upside. There is one company that could benefit if natural gas futures in Europe spike: Total SA (NYSE:TOT).
There is some thought that part of the reason the recent European sanctions were not as intense as America's is that EU leaders know that they need Russia for natural gas supplies. If this is true, perhaps there will be political motivation for the region to hold back on really punishing Russia, even if tensions heighten.
Russia is a major producer of palladium and, with the market already in a deficit, if sanctions progress to the point where there are concerns over Russian exports the price of palladium may gain more momentum. The tensions between Russia and Ukraine have already supported palladium prices this year. Combined with the multi-month strike that hit South Africa's production, this has left the palladium price fluctuating near 13-year highs. Two North American based palladium miners that could enjoy the fruits of higher palladium prices are North American Palladium and Stillwater Mining (NYSE:SWC).
Russia is home to fertilizer giant Uralkali, which competes directly with North American producers PotashCorp NYSE: POT), Agrium (NYSE:AGU), and The Mosaic Company. The competition between Uralkali and the North American producers has heated up since last year when Uralkali stopped participating in a marketing cooperative and instead decided to pursue a volume over pricing strategy for potash sales.
The sanctions are not directly targeted at Uralkali. The two largest fertilizer consumers, China and India, have not placed any sanctions on Russia, and it is highly unlikely that they ever would. Still, there may always be a speculative or sentimental rise on North American potash producers if the situation worsens.
In response to the U.S's sanctions Russian leaders had some very stern words. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the sanctions "evil" and warned that Moscow plans to bolster spending on defense and security in response. "We may go back to the 1980s in our relations with the states that are declaring these sanctions," Medvedev said at a meeting of cabinet ministers.
Geopolitical tensions are a positive for gold prices as they increase demand for safe haven assets. If tensions turn into military action the upside for gold (and gold miners) could be large.