On September 1 traders celebrated the birthday of Russia's dollar-denominated stock exchange, the Russian Trading System (RTS), which was established exactly 20 years ago on September 1, 1995 with 100 listed shares and the index set at 100.
In 2006 the ruble-denomincated MICEX exchange was added to the mix – the home of the all-important Gazprom local shares – but the RTS remains the key index for most foreign investors, who used to make up half the market’s capitalisation, mainly as deals could be settled in safer domiciles like Cyprus.
The exchange, with just under 200 listed stocks, has usually only ever been the best performing index in the world or the worst, so it has been hard to make money consistently. Certainly with valuations depressed to rock bottom at the moment, few portfolio investors believe in Russian stocks and the market has suffered some of the heaviest outflows amongst the emerging markets in recent months.
The index set an all-time low in the wake of Russia’s first big financial crisis on August 17, 1998. The index bottomed out at 38.53 on 5 October 1998 after Russia defaulted on its sovereign debt.
Timing, rather than stock picking, has been the key to making money on the RTS and investors brave enough to plonk some money into the market at the end of 1999 would have enjoyed a ride to the market's all time high of 2,488 on 19 May 2008. That’s a hefty 6,357% price return in less than 10 years, or 54% annualized, according to VTB.
“The longest bull market lasted for eight consecutive months, ending in May 2002. The longest decline (also eight months) ended in January 2009, when the all-time low of 498 was posted on 23 January 2009,” VTB said in a note celebrating the birthday. “The sharpest daily moves in both directions were both achieved in the autumn of 2008, with a 22% increase on 19 September followed by a 19% drop on 6 October. The biggest monthly moves, though, were seen in the index’s early years: it was down 56% in August 1998, but grew the same 56% in December 1999. The most recent lows were achieved during December’s currency crisis (bottoming at 629 on 16 December). The index now trades at 834 points.”
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