Since its launch some 14 months ago, the Motley Fool Global Gains global investing newsletter has crushed the market's returns, beating the S&P 500 by an average of 15 percentage points per pick. Might there be something to this international investing idea after all?
The market-beating performance Bill Mann and his team have returned inspired me to begin perusing the foreign press in hopes of uncovering new international investing ideas, themes, and companies of interest.
Today, I stumbled across one such theme over in my old stomping grounds: Russia. You've all heard that the Russian market is hot, hot, hot, right? ExxonMobil
As the world's biggest oil producer, and the repository of its largest natural gas reserves, Russia is swimming in "petrorubles" -- petroleum traded in the Russian ruble. According to state media outlet RIA Novosti (RIA), incomes are up, too, with the average worker's "real wages" rising 15.1% in 2007.
Nice, huh? But according to another RIA report, inflation is eating up much, if not all, of that rising income. Non-foodstuffs suffered just 6.6% inflation in 2007, but the average price of services rose 13% in 2007, and food price inflation reached 16%. With much of the nation living in privatized apartments and paying state-subsidized rates for power and gas, that 16% number is the one to focus on. Once you take heat and shelter out of the picture, food looms large as the biggest remaining expense. What these numbers suggest to me is that in much of the country, "real" wages aren't growing at all, because inflation is siphoning away much of the new income.
If this is true, what might it mean to investors? In the big picture, it means the Russian economy isn't as strong as its current growth rates may suggest. But that doesn't mean the country isn't full of investing opportunities. In fact, in the first half of 2007, the net flow of foreign investments into Russia increased 150%, to more than $60 billion, compared to the first half of 2006.
Rising food prices are certainly an issue in the country and do present a threat to future growth. Yet, aside from inflationary pressures, the food retail industry has shown signs of significant growth because of the rising amounts of disposable income. According to a Russian Food and Non Food Retail Forecast report, retail food sales accounted for more than 46% of Russian retail sales in 2006.
Local producers such as juice-and-dairy manufacturer Wimm-Bill-Dann
Russia may be known for its lucrative oil and gas sector. But as the country becomes more stable and its population increases its wealth, investors should turn to food retailers associated with the Russian economy, as it is the fastest-growing retail food sales market in the world.
Read more about the companies riding the Russian economic boom in:
- Russia: Bigger Than Big Oil
- Wimm-Bill-Dann Scores an Ace
- Coke's Russian Drinking Binge
- Pepsi Confronts Coke Back in the (Former) USSR