Strong Putin, Strong Russia -- But Will It Suit Investors?

Does a Putin discount on Russian stocks exist? You bet. Take a look at Gazprom, an energy giant with demonstrable reserves and it trades on a lower multiple than Petrochina, a company that has to scour the world for its crude replacement.

Away from energy, consumer-focused companies like Vimpelcom ought to be as hot as a China Telecom, and yet it isn't the case. Western investors in the Russian market have had to watch the RTS struggle as China and other emerging markets have soared.

They comfort themselves by equating Putin with strength and stability. But this bicep-flexing, chest-puffing strength is part of the problem. The 'forced' adjustment of business deals with Shell, BP and others only indicate Russia is struggling with the integrity of contract. This is a business fundamental, but the source of much emerging risk.

And now we have an election result that may reflect the people's political desire for Putin to retain power, but has come at a great cost for the Russian investment case. Election monitors and opposition leaders say the ballot wasn't fair. The White House has expressed concern, and will be ignored again. Russia, in this mood, is not to be negotiated with.

But what if the oil price starts to fall? We have moved $10 in a week already. How compelling is the Russian investment case then, to foreign investors?

The Putin presidency has coincided with a fantastic inflow of oil dollars. The state has been reveling in the glut of revenue sloshing around the economy. The money has liquefied the banking system and helped create a consumption boom. Ah, the mighty petrodollar.

But what will happen when the oil price halves from current levels? How resilient will the rest of the Russian economy be? How much more will come out of the RTS if, as our chartist Robin Griffiths was right this morning, oil has had its run.

If it turns out that way, then that Putin discount could look prophetic.

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