In March, an American journalist was holding Russia's deputy prime minister and finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, to account for the country's economic nosedive. He pointed out that the stock market had lost about three-quarters of its value since September, making it amongst the worst-performing markets in the world. "Yes, its true, but in terms of time lost, this only takes us back to 2003," Russia's doyen of finance answered. "America's markets have done much worse."
There's no doubt that the collapse of the Russian stock market has been enormously painful for investors. Russia's RTS Index has tanked from an all-time high of 2487.92 set on May 19 to dip briefly below 500 in January. But this ignores the fact the index put in giddy 50%-plus gains for about four years in a row previously; the RTS index has lost six years' worth of gains after coming a long way in a very short time.
As of March 2 this year, the RTS was trading at 539. The last time it traded at this level was December 8, 2003. On March 2, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 6763. The last time it traded at this level was January 14, 1997. In contrast to the Russian market, the leading US index has lost 12 years' worth of gains after coming a very short way in a very long time.
Put in terms of time lost, western markets are all doing worse than the stock markets in Central and Eastern Europe. The Nasdaq Composite and the FTSE 100 have also both travelled back to the spring of 2003 - further than the RTS - while only Germany's DAX 30 has done better, travelling back to only August 2004.
Amongst the CIS countries, Kazakhstan's KASE has done best, travelling back to January 2006, which was when international portfolio investors first arrived in the country in any numbers. Even Ukraine, which has been pounded in the sell-off, is only back to December 2004 - about the start of the Orange Revolution that put the country firmly on investors' maps in the first place. Despite Ukraine's PFTS index having fallen from a high of 1,100 to 205 on March 2, in terms of time lost, it has still performed better than the RTS, the Dow, the FTSE and even the DAX. Indeed, almost all of the CEE countries indices are somewhere between six and nine months ahead of their western peers in this trip back in time.
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