Megastar investor and notorious Russia bear Jim Rogers says Russia is one of the best places in the world to invest into. That from a man who spent 47 years rubbishing the country.
Predicting that there will be serious economic problems in the next few years as the commodity cycle turns further down, Rogers says investors will at some point buy simply because things become cheap. And having once been famously and publicly been caught up in a email duel with a bright young Russian MBA student over the attraction of Russia as an investment – and losing – the 73-year-old US businessman has now become one of Russia's most outspoken bulls.
"In [the last few] years I have changed my view of Russia a lot. I have been pessimistic about Russia for 47 years. I become more optimistic," Rogers said in a video interview published in Russia's Vedomosti business daily on March 29. "Yes – you could still have someone snatch your money away in Russia. You can have that happen in America and other places too. But something has happened in the Kremlin that they understand better the rules of the game and if they want to attact – especially international investors – they have to play by the rules. Someone in the Kremlin is starting to play more by the rules. I bought Russian government bonds and ruble bonds a few days ago. I feel secure putting money into Russia. Most people don't."
Maybe talking an advisory job with VTB Capital in 2012 has helped his epiphany along, but the perenially bow-tied Rogers has become a regular feature of the Moscow conference circuit and appears on panels at the St Petersburg economic forum of RT chat shows regularly.
Locking horns on Russia
Now chairman of the investment firms Rogers Holdings and Beeland Interests, Rogers is best known for his 1973 co-founding with George Soros of the Quantum Fund that "broke" the Bank of England, forcing the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992. He is also famous for his caustic put-down of a question posed by MBA student Dmitry Alimov at a Harvard business school talk in the 1990s.
Alimov, who went on to run Gazprom-Media for investment banking star and founder of Renaissance Capital Boris Jordan, before launching his own tech fund, Frontier Ventures, was so incensed he started an email dual with Rogers, picking apart his dismissal of Russia point by point.
"Dear Mr. Rogers: I am the 'lad' who disputed your factual claims with regard to Russia today. First of all, I would like to thank you for speaking to us at the Harvard Business School. I think I speak for my fellow HBS students when I say that we enjoyed your original views and interesting stories today. However, I must address the unfortunate reality that your facts about Russia are plain wrong," wrote Alimov politely opening the exchange.
Rogers' reply began: "Thank you for coming and for writing. I rarely suffer fools gladly and even more rarely bother with chauvinistic know nothings, but since you sent this ludicrous canard... ", before launching into a point-by-point dismissal of Alimov's arguments.
Originally copying in his fellow students, the emailed duel on the pros and cons of investing in Russia became so popular that soon most of Wall Street were reading it, including this correspondent who was living in Moscow at the time. Eventually the story ended up as an article in the New Yorker.
The twist in this tail is that while Rogers is punting Russia, Alimov has drifted off. Billed as the "new face of Russian business" in a bne cover story in May 2012, last year he announced he was moving to Singapore (incidentally where Rogers also resides), and most recently he was in the Bay Area in California enjoying the weather and food. While he has not given up on Russia entirely, he has gone in the opposite direction to Rogers.
"No, we have not divested any Russian assets and maintain a presence there. We have started to invest outside of Russia in 2015," Alimov told bne IntelliNews via Facebook.
Meanwhile, Rogers complained about the limitations that US sanctions have placed on the possibility of buying Russian bonds.
"Many Russian bonds are under sanctions, and I can't just pick up the phone and buy them. I as a US citizen and many other citizens of Western countries can't legally buy the majority of Russian sovereign bonds. It's absurd!" he said in comments widely reported by Russian media.
While declining to say how many ruble bonds he bought, the veteran investor said he preferred them because they have a much higher yield than Eurobonds denominated in dollars or euros.