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Is Russia back in the game?

St. Basil's Cathedral Moscow Russia
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With the ruble surging to new 2015 highs, a better-than-expected earnings report and a brief rally in the price of oil, analysts have been contemplating whether the Russian economy has turned a corner.

Benoit Anne, the head of emerging market strategy at Societe Generale said he was bullish on the Russian currency which gained around 1.7 percent against the dollar on Thursday before easing back lower on Friday morning.

"The ruble, I really like it. It's actually trading on its own planet which, by the way, is a good thing these days," Anne told CNBC Thursday.

"The short term dynamics are much better, volatility is much lower. And it's a behaved currency these days and the oil price up, that's a good thing for the ruble."

Pierre Andurand, the managing partner and chief information officer of fund management firm Andurand Capital, predicts that oil prices will rise this year and told CNBC Thursday that this would benefit a Russia which doesn't have "too much debt" and companies that are performing well.


A weaker dollar and higher oil prices have been the main driver for Russian assets this week as investors focus on tensions in Yemen and how it could affect a key trade route in the region. Russia is heavily reliant on the commodity for its oil and has also been hit by Western sanctions since the annexation of Crimea a year ago.

Russian stock markets have been fallen and the ruble was one of the worst-performing currencies of 2014 despite emergency measures by the country's central bank. The currency has, nonetheless, seen a 20 percent rally from the lows seen in the depths of the crisis and the greenback was trading at 57.327 against the ruble on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, Russian officials have previously estimated that the economy will fall into a recession during 2015. Alexei Ulyukayev, the economy minister, estimated Wednesday that the Russian economy had contracted by 1.5 percent in the first two months of the year, according to Reuters.

Research firm Dealogic said Thursday that international mergers and acquisitions (M&A) with Russian firms were at their lowest year-to-date level since 2001. Domestic M&A was also at its lowest level since the same year, it added.

Aside from currency traders, contrarian investors have been speaking of the benefits of picking up cut price stocks despite the tensions in Ukraine being far from over. Dmitry Kostygin, the CEO of Russian e-commerce firm Ulmart, is naturally bullish on his own country. Ulmart has been one of the better performing companies during the geopolitical tensions and told CNBC Thursday that he was trying to snap up competitors that hadn't been as lucky.

"There are a few opportunities in Russia right now, most people are scared," he said. "Many of them (investors) see opportunities but most of them kind of miscalculate what's going on."

Sberbank is Russia's largest lender in terms of assets and reported a 20 percent drop in profits for 2014. However, it managed to beat market expectations and its stock rallied on Thursday helping the MICEX to post gains before the wider market, and the "risk-off" sentiment, pulled the bourse lower.

Meanwhile, Russia's five-year credit default swaps - the price it costs to insure its debt over a 5-year period - fell below 400 basis points for the first time since December 9 on Thursday, according to Reuters.

"The ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine has alleviated fears of further sanctions against Russia," Simon Colvin, a research analyst at data firm Markit, said in a note on Thursday.

"Russian investors will also take solace in the latest bounce in oil prices...however, the commodity still has a long way to go to reach the level where it can balance the Russian budget. The country is still expected to enter a deep recession in the coming year."