Russia continues to make headlines with its rather disrespectful treatment of smaller neighbors, most recently via border disputes with Georgia.
As always, politicians and investors alike roll their eyes and wonder when Vladimir Putin will just knock it off and let Russia grow up.
A lot of Russian shenanigans have come as a result of economic troubles: the ongoing conflict in Ukraine driven over prospective associations with the European Union on trade and immigration, and the recent border trouble in Georgia rooted in oil and gas infrastructure.
This constant unrest and economic uncertainty is enough to make many Western investors avoid Russia like the plague.
After all, the World Bank estimates a 2.7% decline in Russian GDP this year, followed with an anemic 0.7% growth rate in 2016.
What’s to like?
Well, one thing to like is performance. Consider that while the S&P 500 Index is up only about a percent this year, the Market Vectors Russia Index ETF (RSX) is actually up more than 12% in the same period!
So what has gotten Wall Street interested in Russia? For starters, it is among the cheapest nations in the world right now from a valuation perspective.
According to Star Capital calculations, Russia has a cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (or Shiller P/E) of just 4.8 — the lowest in the world, and a fraction of the current 25.5 ratio for the United States. Russia also has a conventional P/E ratio of 9.4, which is among the world’s lowest, and less than half of America’s 19.8 ratio.
Those aren’t Russia’s only attractive valuation metrics, either. Russian stocks trade at a roughly 30% discount, as its price-to-book ratio of 0.7 — second only to Greece — is well below the U.S. P/B of 2.9. Russian stocks also trade at a price-to-sales of 0.7, compared with a P/S of 1.7 for U.S. stocks.
Yes, the long-term picture is much worse. Since January 2011, the RSX ETF is still down almost 60% even after this recent rally. And its peer, the Market Vectors Russia Small Cap ETF (NYSEARCA:RSXJ) is down more than 70% from its inception in April 2011. By contrast, the S&P 500 is up about 65% since the beginning of 2011.
And given weak growth prospects, it’s hard to imagine there is significant upside. Even if Russian stocks appear to be undervalued, a lot of the pessimism seems to be well-founded.
Furthermore, it’s clear that a lot of the pain in Russia over the last year has been caused by a strong dollar and weakening materials pricing. From energy giant Gazprom (OGZPY) to miner Alrosa (ALRS) and iron and steel mined by Mechel (MTL), all of Russia’s biggest companies are currently getting brutalized by weak commodity pricing.
Given these challenges, Russia is certainly not for the faint of heart considering the past few years of declines and the risk of continued shenanigans out of the Kremlin.
But given the outperformance year-to-date, a Russian ETF like RSX is certainly worth a look for aggressive traders.
Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com and the author of The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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