How quickly times change. Russia's stock market, unloved for months, last week overtook India to be the best-performing of
the four BRICs. The Moscow stock index jumped 5 percent last week, posting its biggest weekly rise in seven months, bringing
year-to-date gains to 17.5 percent. Fund managers such as Goldman Sach's Jim O'Neill, creator of the BRICs term, are predicting it will lead the group next year too.
So what's with the sudden burst of enthusiasm for Moscow? One catalyst is of course soccer body FIFA's decision to award
the 2018 Soccer World cup to Russia. Investors are piling into infrastructure stocks, with steel producers especially tipped to
benefit as Russia starts building stadia, roads and hotels. But the bigger factor, according to John Lomax, HSBC's head of emerging equity strategy, is the optimism that has started creeping in about U.S. -- and world economic growth.
Some of that may have been dampened by Friday's lacklustre U.S. jobs data. But overall, checks of U.S. economic vital signs show the economy looking sturdier than it was six months ago and most banks, including the pessimists at Goldman Sachs, have upped 2011 growth forecasts for the world's biggest economy. And China and India are continuing to grow at rates close to 10 percent. All that is great news for the commodity and oil stocks -- the mainstay of the Russian market. Merrill Lynch, for instance, expects oil prices to be $10 higher by next December than now.
"Investors are getting more confident about the cyclical upturn," Lomax says, citing oil prices and the recent rise in U.S. yields. "So you want to be in Russia which is a global growth play."
The icing on the cake is the price of Russian stocks. They trade around 6 times 2012 earnings compared to 10 times for emerging
stocks as a whole. Goldman's O'Neill points out fellow-commodity exporting BRIC, Brazil, trades at much higher valuations while the currency too is more expensive. And India, this year's runner-up is likely to suffer from a double whammy of high inflation and extremely high
valuations -- Mumbai trades at 16-17 times 2012 earnings.