The news out of Russia these days is pretty frightening. Terrorists are blowing up airplanes and metro stations and, most recently, targeting a school. Government tax collectors are doing their darndest to destroy politically unpopular companies such as YUKOS (Pink Sheets: YUKOY). "Freedom of the press" is turning rapidly into a very bad joke.
Investors, however, would be well advised to look beyond the bad news that dominates headlines and consider how well the Russian economy itself is doing this year. According to a report from Russia's State Statistics Committee last week, in the first half of 2004 the Russian economy grew at an annualized rate of 7.4%. Analysts in Moscow estimate that for the full year, that rate will slow somewhat but still clock in at a blistering 7% gain over 2003 -- twice the pace of U.S. growth.
That kind of growth has attracted a fair amount of attention from U.S. corporate investors already. For example, last month, General Electric
Individual investors in the U.S. may be wary of trying to invest directly in Russian companies, fearing to get stuck holding the bag if their investment crosses the wrong politician. But there are safer ways to play the Russian card. Consider that while Russia's economy as a whole may be white-hot, a huge portion of that GDP growth came about over the course of oil's rise in price from $20 to $50 a barrel -- oil being one of the ex-Soviet giant's primary exports. That should imply two things to U.S. investors. First, that Russia has money to spend. Second, that if most of the country's GDP gains came from selling oil, then it follows that the rest of the country's industry did not grow anywhere near 7%. Consequently, Russia's 150 million consumers still constitute a huge market for American companies operating in the country. Companies like those named above. Companies like McDonald's
All of these companies are well positioned to feed a Russian bear that has an increasing appetite, and the increasing means to pay for them. And by buying into these gold-standard U.S. companies, an investor can partake of Russia's growth while considerably limiting the risk of suffering a "YUKOS."
International investment flows both ways. The Fool's also covered stories on Russian companies investing in America recently. For more on the other side of the story, read Rich Smith's Takes:
Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any company mentioned in this article.