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US companies face limited risk to Russian currency collapse

Customers use their mobile phones beside a digital advertisement inside a Citibank bank branch in Moscow.
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Customers use their mobile phones beside a digital advertisement inside a Citibank bank branch in Moscow.

The plunge in the Russian ruble is taking a big bite out of foreign investment in Russia.

But with a handful of exceptions, U.S. companies have relatively small exposure to the currency's ongoing collapse.

The ruble began unwinding this summer, as a glut of oil on the global market sent crude prices tumbling. The drop in oil prices has taken the currency down with it—largely because Russia's economy is so heavily dependent on oil revenues.

The descent has picked up speed in recent weeks, sending the Russian currency into a full-blown tailspin. In the short term, that's sent some foreign companies scrambling to react.

On Tuesday, Apple halted online sales of its products in the country, citing "extreme fluctuations" in the value of the ruble.

"Our online store in Russia is currently unavailable while we review pricing," the company said in a statement.

Unless the crisis stabilizes, foreign companies also face the prospect of possible capital controls imposed by Moscow to stem the flow of money fleeing the country. Those could include a requirement that foreign companies convert their profits from dollars and euros into rubles before taking them home.

Read MoreCapital controls: CNBC Explains

Over the longer term, those profits face the ongoing pressure of a sharp slowdown in the Russian economy, which the government recently forecast will contract next year by eight-tenths of a percent. Private economists believe the recession could be more severe, depending on how much further oil prices fall and how long they stay there.

But while the crisis promises to inflict economic pain on the Russian people, the impact on the foreign companiesand the global economywill likely be muted, according to Capital Economics global economist Andrew Kenningham.

"Both trade and financial links between Russia and the rest of the world remain too small for Russia's plight to have major global implications," he wrote in a note to clients.

Kenningham noted that Russia accounts for only 2.7 percent of the world's gross domestic product, just 1.7 percent of global trade, and only 2.2. percent of foreign direct investment.

Of that, the United States ranked 10th in total foreign investment in Russia—with less than $20 billion in total—at the end of last year, the latest data available from the Russian central bank. That includes both equity investment in Russian companies and bonds and other debt securities. U.S. bank lending accounts for only 0.1 percent of U.S. GDP, according to Kenningham.

But a handful of U.S. and European companies have relatively big exposures to the turmoil in Russia: Here are three of them:

General Electric: With $146 billion in revenue last year, the sprawling, global industrial and finance conglomerate has one of the biggest American footprints in Russian. But as a share of GE's overall revenue, Russia represents about 1 percent of its business, according to CEO Jeff Immelt.

"It's very small," he told CNBC. "But we'd like Russia to be in better shape. I like Russia in the long term."

Last year, GE's sales rose 23 percent in Russia, where it sells everything from power generating equipment to jet engines, part of its global strategy of expanding its business in developing economies that are building new industrial capacity and other infrastructure.

Demand in the rest of the world will more than offset the impact of the Russian crisis, said Immelt, who forecast 10 percent growth in overall profits next year.

Exxon Mobil: As a major player in Russia, Exxon Mobil already suffered a significant setback in September, when U.S. sanctions forced it to halt drilling a remote Arctic offshore oil well that was part of a long-term joint venture with Rosneft, its state-controlled oil company partner. The sanctions were imposed to punish Russia for escalating tensions in Ukraine.

Exxon Mobil's $3.2 billion joint venture, signed in 2011, was to have developed a series of oil and gas fields in Siberia and several other Arctic Ocean locations.

Russia's untapped Arctic oilfields are believed to contain vast reserves that could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. But those finds may be worth considerably less if oil prices remain at lower levels.

Citibank: With more than 50 branches in 12 cities across Russia, Citibank has the largest presence of the major U.S. banks.

In 2013, Citi generated profit of $285 million on revenue of $1.1 billion in Russia, up 10 percent from 2012, from its customer base of more than 3,000 institutional clients and over a million retail customers, including 500,000 credit card holders.

The deepening economic slowdown in Russia will likely cut into loan demand, but Citi's exposure in the country could be limited because those loans are almost entirely funded by local deposits, according to Fitch Ratings.

Fitch also noted that retail and corporate banking is about its half business, with investment banking making up the rest.