Four things MNC executives need to know about the latest sanctions against Russia

In what has been the harshest Western response to Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis, the EU today imposed broad – so called Level 3 – sanctions against Russia. The US is likely to follow suit shortly.

European Parliament in Brussels (Image: Reuters)
European Parliament in Brussels (Image: Reuters)
Four things MNCs need to know about the implications of these sanctions:

1. Credit costs will increase considerably and lending will become more restricted.

The sanctions will restrict the ability of majority state-owned Russian banks to conduct long-term borrowing on European financial markets. Russia’s biggest banks – Sberbank and VTB – will both be affected, in addition to a host of smaller banks, including ones already targeted by US sanctions. Sberbank alone holds 29.0% of Russian banking sector assets and accounts for 50.0% of retail and 32.0% of commercial lending. Shut out of EU and (likely) US financial markets, these banks will see their funding costs increase considerably. In response, they are likely to reduce new lending to both businesses and consumers and increase interest rates. Importantly, however, these banks will be able to continue processing financial transactions in US dollars and euro.

2. Sanctions will have a considerable impact on investment.

Investment in Russia is already contracting – it decreased by close to 5.0% in Q1 2014. Faced with weaker demand, higher financing costs, and political uncertainty, businesses in Russia will be more likely to postpone investments and put long-term plans on hold until the situation stabilizes.

3. The Russian government may create operational problems for Western MNCs.

Russian government discussions about import substitution and re-orienting trade toward Asia have been going on since the annexation of Crimea earlier this year. The new sanctions give proponents of such ideas a strong argument for more aggressive measures to restrict Western MNCs from the market, particularly companies that sell to the government. MNCs should be prepared for a range of Russian government responses, from slightly more onerous inspections to the outright expropriation of foreign assets, although the latter is not highly likely.

4. Companies should have a plan in place that accounts for a deteriorating operating environment:

Most MNCs’s Russia plans built in 2013 or even early 2014 are likely no longer reflective of the reality on the ground. Companies need to reassess the regulatory, operational, and economic environment in which their business will be operating in the coming months and prepare their business accordingly. FSG clients can read suggested actions on building such a plan here.

Nigeria: Insecurity and its impact on business

Despite ongoing violence in Nigeria, opinions about the country’s security challenges and what they mean for investors differ widely among local entrepreneurs and international business leaders.

Some executives, whether in Lagos or other commercial centers like Abuja or Port Harcourt, say they aren’t concerned. They believe business will continue as usual and that the threat from militant group Boko Haram will subside after the elections in February next year.

Boko Haram is generally believed to be sponsored by a few political forces who are keen on influencing election results. The group’s terrorist activity has increased dramatically since the election of President Goodluck Jonathan, the country’s first Southern and Christian president, and some believe that Boko Haram was able to emerge because traditional power structures were disrupted in many of the northern states when the central power shifted to the South.

Other business leaders are deeply troubled, not only by the rising violence but by its underlying dynamics.

“We don’t understand why Nigerians are blowing themselves up for a cause. It simply isn’t part of the Nigerian psyche,” a senior manager of a consumer goods company told me.

The head of marketing at a Nigerian bank echoed these sentiments, before adding: “The dynamics here are changing. Everything is getting more expensive because most of our food comes from the north, prices have been going up and what the average Nigerian earns is simply not enough anymore. I fear this may impact the balance here in Lagos, particularly as we get more refugees from the north. Our infrastructure can’t cope with it.”

Business Impact

The volatile state of Nigerian security has also lead to varied experiences among business leaders. As the owner of a distribution company explained: “In our annual sales meetings, one of our local representatives stood up and pronounced huge losses due to the instability in the North. In response, another representative exclaimed that his major customer sits in Borno state!”

Consumer goods companies tend to be the businesses that suffer most, selling low value, high volume products in the populous yet poor northern states. State-imposed curfews mean less people are going out to buy things, and many traders in neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon have ceased buying their products in bulk from Northern Nigeria.

Still, businesses operating in affected areas are developing creative ways to address the challenges.

We just had to adapt to the environment. When Boko Haram destroyed the mobile phone masts, we couldn’t call our local representatives anymore. So we just invested in VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocoll) technology, which is a little more expensive, but now we can communicate frequently with our local representatives, and business is flourishing,” the CEO of an FMCG distribution company told me.

A Common Enemy

While the threat resulting from Boko Haram is still geographically contained around the Northern and central states, the country’s commercial capital has been spared. It is believed that those funding Boko Haram have business interests in Lagos they do not want to be undermined.

Many business have refocused their attention to safer and more prosperous parts of the country to capture the abundant commercial opportunities Nigeria has to offer, but there is till concern that what led to the rise of Boko Haram is not just political maneuverings but real socioeconomic grievances which if left unaddressed could incite insecurity in more stable places.

Some business leaders stress the need for the government to take action. But as Nigeria enters what is only its fourth electoral cycle, others are more patient. They believe that more time is needed for democratic processes to mature and for the disrupted traditional structures to be corrected, calming the power struggles that lie at the heart of the Boko Haram threat.

And still a few try to look at the situation with a typically positive Nigerian attitude:

“In history, the unifying factors of nation states have often been the existence of a common enemy. We have that now, and it could help us focus less on what divides us as tribes and regions, but what unites us as a country.”


Anna Rosenberg is Head of Sub-Saharan Africa Research at Frontier Strategy Group, a Washington headquartered information services provider advising multinationals on doing business in emerging markets. Anna is currently on a research trip to Nigeria and Ghana, meeting representatives from local and international businesses, journalists and government officials. Follow Anna on twitter @anna_rosenberg

*This article is Part 1 of an ongoing series, originally published in conjunction with How We Made it in Africa.

Multinationals must build contingency plans for Russia

European foreign minister
European foreign ministers gathered in Brussels on Tuesday. Associated Press

The EU has decided to impose more sanctions on Russia. For now, these fall short of the so-called Level 3 sanctions that could be against whole sectors of Russia’s economy and crucially, its banking sector. However, the international fallout from the downing of flight MH17 and the growing tensions between Russia and the West mean that Level 3 sanctions are increasingly a possibility.

For an MNC executive, this means that it’s time to plan. Level 3 sanctions would dampen Russian growth further, reducing demand across industries; they would cause significant problems for customers and distributors to access finance, affecting operations; and are likely to be met with Russian retaliation that could make it more difficult for MNCs (especially American ones) to do business in Russia. All of this will have an impact on a company’s customers, finance, supply chain, people, and marketing strategy and MNCs should be building step-by-step play books on how to respond to spillover across their Russia operations.

martinachart2This is not to say that MNCs should be pulling out of Russia. In fact, planning is so important because of the significant role that Russia plays in many MNCs’ EMEA and even global portfolios. Companies that have stuck with Russia through crises have historically reaped significant benefits and this could be an opportunity for MNCs to strengthen partner and customer relationships and to make low-cost investments.

Meanwhile, larger strategic questions are looming in the background for EMEA and global leadership teams. With the likely opening of Iran for business, a Russia that is increasingly closing in on itself could lose out in the competition for corporate investments.

For a full report on Russia contingency planning, FSG clients can click here. A full report on preparing for a post-sanctions Iran is also available.

Preparing Your Business for Post-Sanctions Iran [Infographic]

Iran_Infographic_PostSanctions

International negotiations involving Iran’s nuclear program were extended until November 24, which is good news for Western multinationals. Senior executives should use this extra time to lay out plans for entering or expanding in the Iranian market. Today, FSG released a report for our clients that outlines actions to take in order to prepare for major challenges and capitalize on huge opportunities in post-sanctions Iran.

Many companies are preparing to enter or expand in post-sanctions Iran, and 40% of FSG clients surveyed already view it as a priority market. A comprehensive nuclear deal and the subsequent opening of the Iranian market would represent the biggest shake-up to the MENA portfolio since the Arab Spring erupted between late 2010 and early 2011. Iran’s population is the second largest in MENA, and its oil and gas reserves are the 4th and 2nd largest in the world, respectively.

Before committing significant resources to overcome operational challenges in Iran, senior executives must first determine whether their organizations are even willing to take the risk by reassessing market potentialsanctions exposure, and indirect vulnerabilities, such as reputational risk. Iran’s opportunities will not outweigh the risks for every company. However, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and consumer goods companies are especially likely to prioritize post-sanctions Iran given its attractive demographics and future spending power.

For companies focused on entering or expanding in post-sanctions Iran, it is imperative to prepare for the top three challenges identified by FSG clients in a recent poll: a lack of access to bank services, compliance risk, and difficulties in becoming a first mover ahead of competition. FSG clients can read our report on post-sanctions Iran to learn about actions for overcoming these challenges and many others.


FSG Poll Results

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What the Latest Sanctions Against Russia Mean for MNCs

The latest rounds of EU and US sanctions against Russia fall short of imposing restrictions on entire industries, but they do have a number of hidden spillover effects for Western multinationals operating in the market. Beyond the obvious impact on MNCs selling to the energy and defense companies directly targeted by sanctions, a broader set of MNCs operating in Russia should be concerned about the banks that have been included in the sanctions list.

Impact on MNCs:

MNCs selling business goods and services are most likely to be indirectly affected by the sanctions, because some of their customers may face a higher cost of credit. Beyond businesses that directly work with the sanctioned banks, Russia’s financial market as a whole is likely to see more expensive credit as more international banks try to restrict new lending out of cautiousness. In the long term, higher lending costs contribute to the contraction in domestic investment, which will prolong Russia’s economic stagnation and reduce demand across all industries.

Actions for executives:

Executives whose business may be affected should speak with their local teams and identify key customers who may work with the sanctioned banks. Such customers may face the risk of rising borrowing costs, particularly if their credit lines need to be rolled over in the near future.

Three consequences of the new round of sanctions:

  1. They could reduce demand from small and medium enterprises.

Both the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (which the EU will ask to halt new lending in Russia) and VEB, a bank sanctioned by the US, lend extensively to small and medium businesses. A cut in their lending will result in reduced investment and demand for B2B goods and services at a time when investment activity is already deeply depressed.

Chart: VEB will be prohibited from borrowing at maturities longer than 90 days on US capital markets

  1. Multiple industries could be see more expensive credit.

VEB and Gazprombank, the two banks the US sanctioned, lend extensively to the corporate sector, including industries such as oil and gas, metallurgy, machine-building, chemicals, and others. 40% of VEB’s lending in 2013 was for infrastructure. Interest rates for corporate customers of both banks are likely to increase, hitting multiple industries at once.

  1. Lending in Belarus could also be hurt.

Subsidiaries of VEB and Gazprombank hold almost 10% of the Belarussian banking market and are largely dependent on parent-bank financing. Their lending activity and cost of credit is likely to be negatively affected by the US sanctions, affecting some MNCs’ corporate customers in Belarus.

Understanding how the new US sanctions work:

The banks sanctioned by the US – VEB and Gazprombank – are among the largest in Russia. They lend primarily to corporate customers across multiple industries and much of their portfolios consist of long-term loans. To finance these loans, they need to borrow at long maturities on international financial markets, which is exactly the kind of borrowing that US sanctions have restricted. Their alternative sources of long-term capital are notably more expensive and would require them to increase lending interest rates, hurting the businesses to which they lend. Because of the size of these banks, increases of their interest rates are likely to have a spillover effect across the Russian banking sector as a whole.

View the video below to see FSG’s Martina Bozadzhieva discuss investing in Ukraine and Russia on CNBC yesterday.

Trouble in Portugal reminds us that the eurozone’s woes are far from over

Executives should be wary of headlines for recovery in Western Europe, and prepared for the heavy downside that Europe’s fragile political and economic order could experience. Although news media highlight positive aggregate growth (the eurozone is forecast to grow 1.2% YOY in 2014), Western Europe remains plagued with high public debt loads and thus highly susceptible to volatility in financial markets.

In our latest Western Europe outlook, we warn senior executives about the impact that unrest at banks or in politics could have across European markets and MNCs’ performance in the region. Specifically, any uptick in political risk could manifest itself in higher borrowing costs for the government in question and across southern Europe. The increase in borrowing costs could also make business in those markets more expensive and would destabilize local governments as their cost of high debt loads rises, reducing confidence and the production and jobs growth that would spur Europe to recovery.

Photo: Banco Espirito SantoImage: Bloomberg News

In the most acute case of the European sovereign debt crisis in recent months, Banco Espirito Santo International SA, a Portuguese bank, delayed payments on some securities, following a warning in May that its parent company faced a “serious financial situation” that “could be damaging”. While southern European government bond yields have remained fairly stable, their decline, sustained since summer 2012, is unlikely to continue. European stocks saw a broad decline, notably 1.90% for Italy’s FTSE MIB and 1.98% for Spain’s IBEX 35. Portugal’s PSI 20 took the worst hit, sinking 4.18% on the news. The biggest question now is whether the delays will result in government involvement, which could spark a much more serious financial market reaction and increase borrowing costs across Europe.

That European banks have not been in the news does not imply that they are healthy, or even improving. As they undergo stress tests, European banks are pulling capital onto their balance sheets, leaving less resources available to lend to businesses. Bank lending to non-financial corporations has declined an average of 2.9% YOY in the first five months of the year. In fact, credit contractions in 2013 and 2014 are the worst since the crisis began. What’s more, Moody’s downgraded 82 European banks in May in response to a new EU law that makes banks mutually responsible for risks in the event of another crisis. The majority of these banks were not southern European, but rather from creditor nations such as Germany (12), France (10), and Austria (8), highlighting the breadth at which Europe’s banking crisis has sustained its reach.

In response to this broad European macroeconomic trend, companies can monitor a few important indicators of change:

  • Loan growth: credit growth would imply positive trends in supply and demand for the funds that fuel consumption and production growth
  • Unemployment: gauge which economies are most at risk for austerity fatigue and thus political unrest
  • Bond yields: an increases could indicate market perceptions of increased political risk
  • Results of bank stress tests in Q4 2014: while disruptive, any major bank failures will help companies to identify which countries’ recoveries are likely to lag behind

FSG clients can find out what this means for their business and how to respond in our latest Western Europe regional outlook, and in our Western Europe team’s recent blog posts and podcasts.

Iraq Crisis: Reacting Rashly to Instability Could Hurt Your MENA Business

Photo: Iraq Crisis: A Kurdish soldier with the Peshmerga keeps guard near the frontline with Sunni militants on the outskirts of Kirkuk, an oil-rich Iraqi city on June 25, 2014.  Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Right now all eyes are on the conflict in Iraq. However, political instability is the regional norm, as seasoned senior executives can attest. Companies must avoid making rash decisions in response to regional volatility. Otherwise, there is a danger of cannibalizing long-term prospects for MENA growth.

Senior executives must be proactive in controlling the conversation with their corporate office to counteract the steady stream of negative media attention that is focused on the region. Despite the terrible human toll from the Iraq crisis, and increasing links to the devastating Syrian civil war, only 11% of MENA GDP is derived from markets that are highly exposed to spillover from the conflicts.

Senior executives should assess how deteriorating stability in Iraq impacts their MENA strategy, but a measured response is required. FSG suggests considering three actions for your regional business:

1. Course-correct your MENA strategy, but do not waste resources on a complete overhaul.

Risk-tolerant companies can gain long-term market share as others freeze investments or pull out of Iraq and surrounding countries. At the same time, MNCs can focus on a profitability-driven strategy in stable countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Our clients can use FSG’s market prioritization tool to aid in reassessing where to concentrate regional resources. They can also track signposts in our Iraq report and updates from FSG’s MENA Monthly Market Monitorto help decide when changes are appropriate.

2. Leverage local partners to maintain a foothold in affected areas in the MENA region.

Risk-averse companies can maintain a foothold in unstable markets by relying on local partners to reduce financial and security risks. It will be important to work with partners to monitor changing regional perceptions of Western brands if there is a sustained Iraq conflict in which foreign intervention is possible. Clients can review FSG’s Managing Distributors in MENA for additional strategies.

3. Count on de facto or de jure Kurdish independence, which brings opportunities and risks.

Kurdistan’s capture of oil-rich Kirkuk puts it on an accelerated path toward de facto or de jure independence. Kurdistan could become even more of an investment destination as a result. But manage expectations, as there are new challenges, including potential fuel shortages as a result of disruptions to the Baiji oil refinery and Erbil’s exposure to a rise in terrorist attacks. Clients can read our Iraq Frontier Market Access report for more on Kurdistan and use our monthly MENA report to track developments.

(Image courtesy Getty Images, Scott Platt: A Kurdish soldier with the Peshmerga keeps guard near the frontline with Sunni militants on the outskirts of Kirkuk, an oil-rich Iraqi city on June 25, 2014.)

Four Reasons Why Iraq’s Impact on Oil Prices is Overstated

Written by: Fadi Khalife, Frontier Strategy Group Intern, EMEA
 

The recent events in Iraq naturally heighten concerns surrounding higher oil prices given the country’s position as OPEC’s second largest crude producer. However, despite a spike in oil prices over the last week due to the expansion of a broad based coalition of Sunni insurgents, led by ISIS, in northern Iraq, this volatility is likely to be short-lived. For MNCs, this means that it may be too early to adjust plans to account for a sustained spike in global energy prices.

Here are the reasons why:

1) Most of Iraq’s oil production and exportation is in the south

The seizure of oil fields appears to be a strategy of ISIS in general, as it has performed similar operations in eastern Syria to generate revenue by selling oil. However, it is important to remember that most of Iraq’s large producing fields and refineries are in the south, an area that has been largely unaffected by militant activity. Iraq’s northern oil exports used to amount to 300,000 bpd prior to March this year, but have since been shut off due to attacks on the pipeline to Turkey.  However, this figure still remains low in comparison to the 2.58 million b/d (as of May this year) that are exported from the country’s southern terminals.

iraq mapMap showing oil fields and pipelines: the most important are most are located in the south away from the fighting (Source: WSJ)

2) The expansion of territory gained by Sunni insurgents is unlikely to continue at its current pace due to the potential of foreign involvement

In particular, both the US and Iran have shown willingness to assist the Iraqi army fight the insurgency. Although Baghdad would be a natural next target for the groups, the capital is heavily fortified and any advancement on the city could trigger foreign military intervention, such as US aerial attacks.  Furthermore, Iraqi Shi’ite volunteers are being recruited in large numbers to counter the ISIS advancement and any attack on Shi’ite pilgrimage sites would almost certainly lead to Iranian military support

3) While fighting at the Baiji refinery is domestically disruptive, the facility does not export any oil

The refinery accounts for one third of the nation’s refining capacity (up to 310,000 b/d at full capacity) but it mainly supplies northern Iraq and Baghdad and does not export any oil products. Three quarters of Iraq’s oil production is in the southern part of the country so the danger to oil exports from fighting at the facility is low

4) The short-term volatility of global oil prices is likely to be mitigated by the thawing of relations between Iran and West

This is because both have an interest in curbing the expansion of Sunni insurgents, and better relations could eventually lead to a boost in Iranian crude exports to global markets which would offset the potential fall in Iraqi production. Just this week, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that the British embassy in Iran will reopen and both the US and Iran have expressed a willingness to collaborate to curb the ISIS advancement

For more analysis of the recent violence on energy prices, FSG clients may access the report here.​

Kenya: Worsening Insecurity Impacts Business and the Economy

As another major terrorist attack has hit Kenya, companies should expect this not to be the last one in the near future. Terrorism is creating a growing sense of fear that is harming consumer-oriented businesses and tourism, a major driver of the Kenyan economy. However, despite causing disruptions and uncertainty in the short-term, rising insecurity will not derail Kenya from its path of economic expansion in the medium-term and companies should ensure that they maintain a balanced view of the impact insecurity will have on their operations, customers, and long-term plans for the market.

Kenya WSJAt least 48 people were killed when militants attacked Kenyan coastal Mpeketoni on June 16th (Picture: Associated Press) 

To put Kenya’s terrorist threat into perspective, it is important to understand the underlying dynamics that form the root cause for mounting volatility:

  • Origins of the terrorist threat: Insecurity arises from political instability in neighboring South Sudan and Somalia. Since the Kenyan army’s military incursion into Somalia in 2011, there has been an upsurge in terrorist attacks on public places. The main threat comes from radical Islamist group Al Shabaab and homegrown Islamist militants.
  • The tarnished tourism industry fuels volatility: Tourist numbers tumble every time a new attack hits the country, triggering a drop in prices for hotel rooms. This leads to a rise in unemployment and economic grievances in coastal areas, which creates a fertile recruitment ground for radical causes.

The Toll on the Tourism Sector
New travel warnings to Kenya’s major tourist areas issued by the US, Britain, France, and Australia could cause large job losses and shave off a 1.0% point of GDP growth. The sector accounts for more than 10% of GDP. The number of tourist arrivals already declined by 7.0% from July 2012 to July 2013.

  •  Weak governance exacerbates insecurity: In its fight against terrorism, the government is mistreating Muslims and has arrested thousands of mainly ethnic Somalis. Its behavior is fueling discontent.

However, despite rising insecurity, Kenya’s positive economic drivers will outshine the challenges: Terrorist attacks will cause sporadic disruptions but the vibrant private sector, rising consumer spending and Kenya’s important role as a hub for East Africa are strong economic drivers which are unlikely to be derailed by insecurity. FSG clients should review our recent report, Market Spotlight: Kenya, which covers Kenya’s medium-term macroeconomic outlook and provides strategies companies can implement to be prepared for a rise in insecurity.

Actions companies can take:

  • Guarantee the security of your employees: Refrain from putting employees in international hotels or from holding marketing events in major hotels or malls, as these could become a target.
  • Adapt to changing consumption patterns: Package goods for consumption activity at home, as consumers are more likely to consume at home because of security concerns.
  • Maintain a balanced view: Carefully assess the risks stemming from terrorist activity to your business operations and demand for your products, as these may ultimately not be significant and should not warrant a decrease in investment in the market.

 

MNC Insight: Five things I learned during my 10-day visit to Dubai

I met with more than a dozen Dubai-based senior executives from multinational companies across several sectors. Five important issues emerged during our conversations:

1. Improving performance in Africa is the focus of MEA strategic planning 

During my visit to Dubai, 70% of the companies that I met were focused on improving their performance in Africa. Interestingly, most of the companies use Dubai as a hub for Sub-Saharan Africa. The UAE is already an established regional hub for the Middle East, because of the advanced commercial infrastructure, air travel links to rest of the world (Gulf flights can reach 2/3 of world’s population in 8 hours), access to skilled, albeit expensive expatriate labor, and relative ease of anticipating local costs.

2. MNCs are frustrated increasingly by the procurement process in Saudi Arabia 

Many executives cited an extended and unclear procurement process as an obstacle to business growth. There are new procedures and staff in many ministries, in part to ensure compliance, and this has led to more delays in the approval process. SAGIA, Saudi Arabia’s investment agency, recently announced a new fast-track option for processing foreign investor applications and I will investigate how it is being implemented during my upcoming visit to the market.

3. Executives are still mystified by MENA’s frontier markets, particularly Algeria and Iraq

In Algeria, companies often work through a local partner, but have underperformed due to a difficult operating environment. Many are watching whether President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s fourth term will usher in an era of growth or support stagnation. In Iraq, most companies do not have enough info to navigate the market appropriately and find it difficult to make the case for resources given dramatic headlines that appear in Western news outlets every day.

4. Investment in Iran is still a taboo topic for many despite the market’s huge potential

Iran has the 2nd largest population in MENA and among the largest oil and gas reserves in the world. Yet the market opportunity still seems too far off for many MNCs, especially those with US headquarters. Interestingly, I met with a consumer-oriented Danish company that is trying to get expansion plans approved by their board. The executives are worried about rising competition from American companies if a nuclear deal is reached in July.

5. Companies are not worried enough about MENA’s vulnerability to a Chinese slowdown

China’s growth trajectory was not a concern for many executives until I connected the dots to the overall health of MENA economies. The Middle East supplies nearly 50% of China’s oil. Strong Chinese demand drove an oil price surge that increased GDP in GCC countries by $1 trillion between 2003 and 2013. In addition, 15% of MENA exports go to China and Chinese-based companies are major foreign investors in the region. As a result, executives need to factor into their strategic plans how a slowdown in China (below 7% annual growth) would hurt economic activity in MENA.