As BP faces difficulty at its Russian venture, is the country a safe place for UK investors?
There has always been concern around election time in Russia but, now that Vladimir Putin is again President, I expect another period of stability. He has transformed the country, putting in place a new environment for business, built primarily on transforming the tax system. Personal income tax is now a flat 13 per cent and corporate income tax 20 per cent. The oil price has remained fairly strong, and with expected GDP growth of 4 per cent this year, there is much to be optimistic about. By contrast with much of the world, Russia looks like an excellent prospect over the next five to ten years. The legal system continues to reform, Russia has no net debt and there will be huge infrastructure renewal as the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2018 World Cup approach. While there is a view that western-style democracy does not yet exist, economic freedom does and this brings with it a stable but vibrant business environment.
John McRoberts is founder of Aurora Russia, the private equity fund.
You shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Russia is a good place to invest because stocks are cheap or certain business sectors are growing. There’s a good chance you will lose your money and possibly much more. I should know. I was once the largest foreign investor in Russia until I was banned from the country and my offices were raided. Some try to portray my case as an isolated incident, but one out of every six Russian businessmen is sitting in jail. It is not just Russians who are targeted. Yesterday’s news that BP is entering its fourth major dispute with its Russian partners should give people reason to worry. And if it doesn’t, just look at the troubles that Shell, Ikea, Telenor, and Bank of New York have had, just to name a few. The next time you get the urge to invest in Russia, please lie down for 30 minutes and wait until that urge has passed. You will thank me.
William Browder is chief executive and co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management.