Investors piled out of Russian stocks Friday after the abrupt departure from the country of a foreign oil boss and Primer Minister Vladimir...
MOSCOW — Investors piled out of Russian stocks Friday after the abrupt departure from the country of a foreign oil boss and Primer Minister Vladimir Putin’s unexpected severe criticism of a large steel firm.
MICEX, the exchange where the bulk of trading in Russian stocks takes place, plunged 5.5 percent by the close of markets, while the RTS Index lost 5.6 percent to sink to its lowest point since March.
After Putin’s scathing attack on Mechel late Thursday, heavy trading in New York sent the steel and coal maker’s stock down nearly 40 percent, wiping more than $5 billion off its value.
The stock recovered about 15 percent in New York trading Friday.
Most Read Business Stories
- Seattle among top markets as U.S. home prices increase by double-digit percentages for the first time in years
- Another top Amazon executive to leave company
- Boeing 757 bound for Seattle makes emergency landing
- Alaska Airlines ordered to pay $3.2M to family of woman who died after escalator fall
- Fry's Electronics executive accused of embezzling $65 million
The losses were mirrored Friday in Russian trading.
Putin criticized the company, which is the largest supplier of coal for steelmakers in Russia, for charging much higher prices for raw materials domestically than it does for its exports.
He called for an antitrust investigation.
Earlier Thursday, Robert Dudley, chief executive of the embattled Anglo-Russian oil producer TNK-BP, left the country three days before his visa was due to expire. Russia has not renewed the visa on the grounds he allegedly does not have a valid work contract.
Dudley, who said in a statement his departure follows a sustained assault on the company in the past several months, vowed to run TNK-BP from abroad.
The developments rattled investors, leading to a heavy market sell-off, which is dominated by oil stocks.
“Sentiment is moving against Russia,” said James Fenkner, managing partner at Red Star Asset Management in Moscow.
“If oil has any kind of bounce, the market will look kindly on Russia. If oil [prices] begin to slip, there will be a great unwind.”
Observers say soaring oil prices have largely masked the political tensions, and investors are tensely watching how the corporate conflict plays out at TNK-BP, widely seen as a test case for foreign investment under new President Dmitry Medvedev.
Medvedev, who campaigned on an anti-corruption ticket, has insisted the conflict is a shareholder matter.
Many analysts are convinced, however, that the Russian government wants to take a controlling stake in the company at a later date via a state-owned entity.
While the dispute has spooked investors, observers were skeptical that the onslaught on Mechel heralded a politically motivated attack of the type that brought Yukos oil company to its knees and caused lasting harm to Russia’s investment image.
“I think the probability of this becoming a Yukos-style asset grab is relatively small,” said Red Star’s Fenkner. “But if it’s an asset distribution, then all bets are off.”
In a research note, Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib, said, “The last train carrying the optimists out of Russian equities has just left the station. Let’s hope it’s just for a vacation rather than emigration.”
The RTS is down more than 20 percent from its mid-May high, pushing it into bear territory.