Russia's ruble-denominated MICEX stock index rallied strongly on March 19, regaining its pre-2008 crisis level for the first time since the global crisis started. The MICEX index closed at 1,914.02, a level it last saw in July 2007.
Russian blue chip stocks Rosneft and Sberbank also soared. However, the dollar-denominated RTS index remains at less than half its all time high and closed at 885.3.
The RTS trading platform, preferred by many foreign portfolio investors as share prices area denominated in dollars, hit all-time record of 2,487.92 on May 19, 2008, when oil was $122.8 per barrel.
The RTS has been particularly prone to Russian shocks. Set up in 1995, the RTS index was initially set at 100 and soared to around 500 in 1997 only to fall back to its all time low of 38 in 1999. After collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 the RTS plumbed new depths, falling to 492,59 on January 23, 2010. The index rose again to around 1,300 as optimism grew that a recovery was around the corner, but the collapse of oil prices at the end of 2014 saw the index plunge again to hit a low of 578.21 on December 16, 2014.
The MICEX index has followed a similar path, touching on a low of 1,574.33 in February 2008 before climbing to a high of 1913 in April 2011. However, MICEX has been less affected by the ruble devaluation and has started to climb since May of last year as the beneficial effects of devaluation lift some stocks. Natural material producers, which account for the majority of the index's make up, have done especially well as their production costs are priced in reduced rubles, while their revenues are dollar-denominated making them big winners from the fall in the ruble's value.
Year to date the MICEX index has returned 6% while the RTS has returned 10% as of March 18. However, over the last 12 months, MICEX has returned 16% whereas the RTS is up by a mere 2%, according to Sberbank.
Analysts say MICEX shares rallied following the fifth decision in a row by the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) to keep interest rates on hold at 11% despite falling inflation rates.
Investors like the central bank's caution. Inflation has dropped from an end of year 12.9% in 2015 to under 8% as of the start of March, but the CBR chose to wait another month to be sure the trend is solid. The inflation numbers are only the latest in a string of improving macroeconomic data results that are bound to lift investors' confidence that a recovery could appear in the second half of this year.
A recovery of oil prices has also buoyed confidence with oil trading at $41 last week, which will take a lot of pressure off the Russian government's budget.
Two of Russia's most liquid shares soared on March 18, with the state-owned retail banking giant Sberbank seeing its shares jump 2.15% to RUB111.82, while those of state-owned oil major Rosneft soared 2.67% to set a new all-time high in ruble terms of RUB317.65.