Your money: Playing at tigers and bears

Liam Roberts' series on overseas investments continues with a look at the Philippines and Russia
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The Independent Online
Philippines

In his efforts to emulate the success of other South East Asian Tiger economies, President Ramos has been working hard since 1992 to bring political stability to the 7,000 islands.

The aim of raising per capita income to $1,000 has almost been achieved, but around 40 per cent of the population still live on the poverty line. In their desperate search for work, Filipinos migrate to all corners of the globe, prepared to toil for near-slave wages in order to send money back to even less well paid or unemployed relatives. Remittances from such overseas workers are estimated to top $2bn annually; the country's trade deficit stood at over $12bn at the end of 1996.

The Stock Exchange (PSE) in Manila lists around 200 companies. Electronics components remain the most exportable commodity, with the US the major buyer.

Manila has also recently been through a property boom, with prices quadrupling in the past two years. The banking sector, complacent in the past, has been shaken awake by foreign banks' recent entry to the local market.

Retailing is increasingly important, and "malling", where families traipse en masse through vast air-conditioned shopping malls, has almost become a national sport. The most actively traded companies include San Miguel (the consumer company best known in Britain for its bottled beer), Ayala group (the real estate conglomerate) and the oil giant Petron.

Liquidity remains a problem, however. Ayala Land and Alaya Corp, for example, account for 23 per cent of the total index and 44 per cent of the market is accounted for by the top five stocks. "Getting into the less well traded stocks is never a problem," says Mike Kerly of Invesco Global Emerging Markets. "But getting out is a different matter."

The market has shown a lacklustre sterling return of only 6 per cent over the past 12 months. However, the is considered to be one of the last truly emerging markets left in South East Asia. With interest rates likely to fall short term, many analysts believe that the only way is up.

Russia

"In many ways, Russia is a tale of two cities," says Richard Sobel, director of Barings Asset Management. "A technically advanced, highly educated and industrialised economy, matched against a rural, peasant, God-fearing mass."

The result is an equity market that has surged an astonishing 394 per cent over the last year, but an economy still in dire straits. Gross domestic product fell by 6 per cent last year, its fifth consecutive year of decline, and $20bn of domestic capital fled the country ahead of the presidential elections; inflation has been cut from an annual rate of 843 per cent in 1993, but still hovers above 100 per cent.

Russia spans eight time zones and is the world's biggest state. It is a leading producer of oil, natural gas and electricity but, because the government fears losing control of its natural resources to Western multinationals, many industries are still heavily under-exploited; oil companies such as Lukoil, Surgutneftgaz, Yukos and Gazprom (which alone controls about one-third of the world's gas reserves) have proven reserves on a par with Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, but struggle to finance exploration and development.

Russia's first tentative steps towards privatisation began in 1990 with Kamaz, the world's largest manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks. There are now more than 70 officially recognised stock and commodity exchanges, with the biggest in Moscow, St Petersburg, Vladivostock and Sibirskaya.

Traditionally, the biggest investors have been the highly speculative US hedge fund managers, and although the domestic population is beginning to participate, overseas investment still accounts for more than 90 per cent of the market. Concern, therefore, remains that Russia is still a trading - and not an investment - market.

None the less, Boris Yeltsin's presidential victory over the Communist Party bodes well for an eventual transition to a truly open market economy. His recent appointment of Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov - two ardent reformists - as deputy prime ministers will help to reassure investors.

Clearly, a market that quadruples in value in one year is not one for the faint-hearted, since in this volatile atmosphere falls are likely to be just as dramatic. "However, while in the near term the challenges and risks are abundant," says Baring's Sobel, "even greater are the potential rewards".

Performance statistics: Datastream. Country-specific funds include Jupiter's First Philippine investment Trust, Regent Kingpin, Barings Asset Management, Flemings and Framlington, all run Russian-specific investment trusts.

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