Business

The casualties of Russia's decline

Lithuania Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Lithuania, and other neighbouring countries, are likely to feel the impact of Russia's flagging economy

In the 21st Century, no economy is an island, entire of itself.

But as Russia looks likely to enter a deep recession - fuelled by plummeting oil prices and the plunging rouble - the West has remained sanguine about the potential impact on global finances.

Heavyweights like the US and UK would argue they have little to worry about, for despite its political importance, Russia accounts for just 3% of global economic output, and an even smaller portion of world trade.

However there are several individual companies, and even countries, for whom Russia's decline is very bad news indeed.

Major banks in Austria, France and Italy have much of their value tied up in the country. Global brands such as Carlsberg, Adidas and Pepsi sell a lot to Russian consumers. And some former Soviet states, such as Lithuania and Latvia, rely heavily on exports to Russia, while others benefit from money sent back home from citizens working in the country.

Banking on Russia

France's Societe Generale has 62% of its tangible equity (the funds of its core operations) tied up in Russia, according to research by Citigroup, while Italy's UniCredit has 40%.

Image copyright Baltika
Image caption Baltika, owned by the Carlsberg Group, is one of Russia's biggest beer brands

Austria's Raiffeisen bank, one of the largest lenders operating in Eastern Europe, announced on Thursday that its capital ratio, a measure of a bank's financial strength, had already declined because of the rouble crisis.

Away from the financial sector, it is not just oil companies with interests in Russia, such as BP, who are feeling the pinch.

Companies that sell food, alcohol, cigarettes and beauty products to Russians are increasingly feeling the effects of the country's decline.

Danish brewing firm Carlsberg, which sells almost four out of every 10 beers in Russia, saw its share price fall by almost 20% in the past few weeks due to concerns about its exposure to eastern Europe.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Many Moldovans work in Russia, and send their earnings back home

Drinks maker Pepsi, beauty company Avon and French firm Danone - of yoghurt and baby food fame - all export considerable amounts to Russia too.

Meanwhile US tobacco firm Philip Morris, which sells almost a quarter of all cigarettes in Russia, has seen its shares decimated in the past month.

Rocky rides

Carmakers around the world are also beginning to worry.

US auto firm General Motors has temporarily suspended sales in Russia, following in the tracks of Audi and Jaguar Land Rover. The volatility of the rouble has made pricing increasingly difficult.

And German firm BMW may lose as much as €100m because of the rouble's decline, according to Bloomberg, while several other European firms, including Renault, Volkswagen and Daimler, could face similar fates.

Image copyright Nokian
Image caption Investors have been betting against Finnish tyre-maker Nokian

Additionally, if Russia reacts to the crisis by imposing restrictions on imports to the country, the manufacturers of car components, such as tyre-maker Nokian Renkaat, would be heavily hit.

Indeed, investors have been betting against the Finnish firm, with up to a fifth of all its shares handed over to short sellers, according to Reuters.

Short sellers borrow shares in order to sell them, expecting to buy them back at a lower price.

Nightmare neighbours

Closer to home, many former Soviet countries are watching Russia's misfortunes nervously.

Back in August, three IMF officials warned that while most of Europe would not suffer too much from a downturn in Russia's economy, "for many of Russia's immediate neighbours such as Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and the Baltics, whose exports to Russia exceed 5 percent of their respective GDP, the impact could be substantial".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Almost one in four cigarettes sold in Russia are made by US tobacco firm Philip Morris

Moldova - one of the poorest countries in Europe - relies on money sent back by citizens working in Russia for almost a quarter of its GDP. The decline of the rouble will mean the funds flowing back into the country are greatly diminished.

But however badly individual countries or companies may fare, the leaders of the world's largest economies can sleep quite easily.

"The negative effects of the Russia crisis will be concentrated on a small number of countries and companies with direct exposure to Russia," says Andrew Kenningham, senior global economist at Capital Economics.

"If you think about the future of the UK economy, for example, the impact of events in Russia is likely to be of negligible importance".

Related Topics

More on this story