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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Emerging Market View: What Our Analysts Are Reading

EM View

India’s newly elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government announced its first budget last week, and according to the Wall Street Journal, it proved a letdown for those expecting big-bang reform, MNCs included.

“While it is a well-balanced fiscal plan with focus on reviving consumption and investments, markets have not been overly pleased and experts find certain growth targets to be quite unrealistic. The absence of specifics on several big-ticket items and lack of an overarching vision should rightfully disappoint companies,” says Shishir Sinha, FSG’s Senior Analyst for Asia Pacific.

(Readers can view FSG’s original expectations for India’s BJP government here.)

Last week, Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo SA bonds hit record lows after parent company Espirito Santo International reportedly missed a debt payment, rekindling market fears and reminding investors that the eurozone’s woes are far from over.

“Executives should be wary of headlines for recovery in WEUR, and prepared for the heavy downside that could accompany bank failure. Banco Espirito Santo, a Portuguese bank, delayed payments on some securities, reminding us that just because banks have not been in the news does not imply that they are healthy. FSG’s WEUR Regional Outlook outlines how banks could impact MNCs throughout the region,” says Lauren Goodwin, Senior analyst for Western Europe.

In Latin America, Argentine presidential hopefuls are dealing with the issue of debt negotiations and exploring opportunities for business-friendly reform, according to Reuters.

“As Argentina strives to negotiate with holdouts to avoid default, executives should consider the potential for improvement as elections approach in 2015. The current frontrunners favor negotiating with holdouts and would likely be more pragmatic and business-friendly than President Fernandez,” says Christine Herlihy, FSG’s Senior Analyst for Latin America.

In global news, Forbes recently released an article on local companies competing with foreign investors in emerging markets, citing a new study by Boston Consulting Group and echoing past FSG reports.

“Echoing the same message in FSG’s report Winning the Race For The Market Diamond, local competition gaining market share in emerging markets is an increasing concern for multinationals, particularly for MNCs that focus on the burgeoning emerging market middle class. Read the report to understand the strategies other companies have used to battle the evolution of growing domestic companies,” says Sam Osborn, Associate Practice Leader for FSG’s global analytics.

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.

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.)

Executives Should Lower Expectations for Western European Recovery

ECB Rate Cut

In its monthly policy meeting last week, the European Central Bank (ECB) lowered rates in response to deflationary risks and an appreciating euro. Weak governments and stagnant prices continue to jeopardize Europe’s single quarter of growth (0.3% in Q3), which came only after 6 quarters of recession. Companies, particularly those who report in or transact with euros, should expect currency volatility to increase.

Central banks react when expectations miss on the downside, highlighting the underlying weakness in the recent eurozone economic data that was interpreted by the media as a recovery. FSG is encouraging executives to manage corporate’s expectations of improvement in western Europe in 2014, and keep contingency plans in place for the particularly depressed economies of southern Europe.

What Happened?

The ECB cut its benchmark rate from 0.5% to a new record low of 0.25%. After the news, the euro immediately fell 1.5% against the US Dollar and 0.9% against the GBP before recovering slightly.

The Data, Not the Headlines:

Inflation: The ECB is responding to unexpectedly low price growth. Inflation grew only 0.7% YOY in October compared to 1.1% in September. Inflation, significantly lower than the ECB’s guideline of a 2.0% threshold, creates a  large downside risk of deflation; when prices fall, consumers and businesses delay purchases because they expect goods to become even cheaper. Consumption and thus business profits decline, and companies are forced to stall or even lower wages, creating a vicious cycle that undoubtedly would damage economic progress in Europe, a region with only one quarter of meager growth after six quarters of recession.

Appreciating euro: The euro appreciated nearly 5.0% against its peers this year, not least due to Germany’s world-beating current account surplus. A more expensive euro makes it difficult for struggling European countries to regain competitiveness and growth through exports, depressing prices even further.

Unemployment: Unemployment remains at an all-time high of 12.2% and weak growth will not create jobs at a rate fast enough to lower unemployment

Credit: Credit risk and the ongoing adjustment of financial and non-financial sector balance sheets contribute to weak loan demand; loans to households are stagnant at 0.3%, and loans to businesses continue to decrease, down 2.7% YOY in September. From the supply side, banks are burdened by legacy assets that have not been wound down, limiting their ability to create credit.

Download the podcast or access the entire FSG iTunes library here

Memo to EMEA and LATAM regional heads: time to pick up the phone and chat

Struggling to Combat Slowing Growth and Rising Costs in Key BRICS Markets?

A conversation with your regional counterpart in EMEA, LATAM, or APAC can help you understand the common structural factors driving lackluster growth and help you re-set corporate expectations for growth in 2014

BRIC deceleration

2013 has been a difficult year for the BRICs—economic growth has decelerated across the board due to the confluence of external headwinds and domestic inefficiencies, while the political will to push for necessary structural reforms has proven elusive.

For emerging markets executives seeking to respond to slowing growth in key BRICS markets, cross-regional conversations can be valuable for issue diagnosis and strategy development. The premise of the argument here is a simple one: common problems can and ought to be identified, so that viable strategies for driving profitable growth given less favorable medium-term prospects for the BRICs can be replicated and applied across regions.

I’ve been ruminating about Brazil’s slowdown and potential for recuperation in 2014 for several quarters now, while my EMEA colleague, Martina Bozadzhieva, has been doing the same with respect to Russia.  However,  it wasn’t until we had an opportunity to sit down together and discuss the dynamics driving Brazil and Russia that we learned how much these two seemingly disparate markets have in common.

Listen to our podcast below for a quick recap of the structural factors driving lackluster growth in Brazil and Russia, and get a cross-regional perspective on strategies for managing corporate expectations and improving bottom-line performance across the BRICS.

Download the podcast or access the entire FSG iTunes library here

Royal Succession Planning at Saudi, Inc.

Qatar’s royal succession puts Saudi Arabia’s unresolved leadership question back into the spotlight. While it is unlikely the next king will alter Saudi Arabia’s path, it is important for companies to be prepared given the prominence of the market in their portfolio.

A survey conducted last year revealed that FSG clients count on Saudi Arabia to deliver sales growth rates than are more than double the overall average in the Middle East and Africa region. In addition, Saudi Arabia is forecast to receive 60% of FDI directed to the GCC by 2014, indicating a heavy reliance on the Saudi market among foreign investors.

Saudi Arabia v MEA and GCC

While a smooth transition is more likely than a botched one, the lack of political certainty will keep senior executives up at night. To understand why a smooth transition is important to business, consider how the king’s role has evolved during the past several decades. King Abdullah is essentially the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world.

Four ways the king manages Saudi Arabia, Inc.

  1. Messaging to the board: The Saudi state’s legitimacy is built on support from religious conservatives, and the king must ensure they are satisfied with the direction of the country
  2. Keeping employees motivated: The king manages royal family rivalries by appointing new princes to positions of importance. Princes are motivated to remain loyal based on the prospect of increasing power that is laid out by this policy. The king also allocates generous allowances to more than 25,000 royal family members in exchange for support
  3. Setting the corporate vision / strategy: King Abdullah’s cautious reform agenda is slowly improving the investment climate and aims to promote sustainable growth. While the king cannot control all of the implementation, his vision plays a key role in the shaping the direction of the kingdom
  4. Portfolio Management: As part of the king’s power to set a strategic agenda, he sets the tone for which sectors and sub-regions benefit the most from public spending

Just as corporate entities are vulnerable to a lack of clear succession planning, so is Saudi Arabia Inc. King Abdullah has done much to alleviate these concern in recent years, positioning young princes in key ministerial and gubernatorial posts, and ensuring the princes that are next in the line roughly share his vision for the country. Still, doubts will likely persist until Saudi Arabia is able to successfully move to the next generation of leaders.

In preparation for changes in Saudi Arabia, companies can take actions now to protect their business:

  1. Establish and maintain government contacts on multiple levels: ministerial, regional, and municipal. This will promote cohesive relationships during a leadership transition
  2. Extend receivables for key customers and buy long-dated oil futures if you are concerned about a sustained disruption to the business landscape
  3. Do not alter or reduce investment plans in Saudi Arabia, particularly in social sectors like education and healthcare
  4. Communicate to corporate that you have a plan in the event of a royal succession

Letters from Africa: Doing Business On-the-Ground Part II

Currently on a research trip to South Africa and Angola meeting FSG clients and other international and local companies, I wanted to take a moment to share my latest insights (you can read Part I here):

Competition

After having spoken to various businesses in the last three days, a common theme I am hearing from the ground revolves around competition. While there is much talk in the media about competition coming from other emerging market companies, notably Chinese, Indian and Brazilian, the issue in Sub-Saharan Africa seems far more nuanced than that. While we are producing a major research piece on the topic in due course, here are a couple of initial observations:

  • Competition from other emerging market companies: This seems to be particularly relevant in the technology sector where Asian companies such as Lenovo and Samsung are rapidly gaining ground. In the consumer goods sector, competition from other emerging market companies is less pronounced with the exception of Brazilian products coming into Angola and Mozambique, as well as South African FMCG companies spreading across the continent. For companies selling high-value products in the industrial sectors (for example machinery and trucks) competition from other emerging market companies seems less dangerous. That’s because overall, African consumers seem to be willing to spend more money for products perceived to be of better quality and having a longer lifespan alongside an adequate servicing infrastructure.
  • Competition from other MNCs: By far the biggest threat comes from the same competitors companies face in developed markets. As the continent is becoming a more prominent business destination – approximately US$50 billion of FDI will flow into the region in 2013, which is more than 350% higher than a decade ago – more MNCs are moving in and competition is  increasing. Now is the time to set up a local presence, gain rapid market share and a competitive advantage.
  • Competition from counterfeit products: An often underestimated competitive threat comes from counterfeit products or trademark infringements. This impacts all sectors. While counterfeit products have undermined profits for many companies, it also has serious reputational implications if the counterfeit product breaks or even becomes a health hazard. This is a particular challenge in the healthcare sector.
  • Competition from the grey market: A major threat for exporters comes from the grey market. As unauthorized distributors bring in products from neighboring markets to sell them at a cheaper price than the authorized distributor, the established distribution partnership suffers and profit margins erode.

Stay tuned for more valuable insights as I meet more companies on the ground…

 

Letters from Africa: Doing Business On-the-Ground

Currently on a research trip to South Africa and Angola meeting FSG clients and other international and local companies, I wanted to take a moment to share my latest insights:

Today I spoke to a seasoned and very impressive South African executive running a 22.7 billion rand turnover FMCG company out of Johannesburg. He wants to remain anonymous but here is his advice to MNCs entering Sub-Saharan Africa:

  1. Build strong partnerships: Value business relationships and continuously invest in them. Personal relationships are a key component of business success in the region.
  2. Blend corporate culture with an entrepreneurial spirit: “Seize opportunity, if it presents itself. Even if the opportunity lies outside of a company’s core business competencies.” For example, acquiring a local business in a different space will enable a company to better understand the market to then move in with the core business at a later stage.
  3. Believe in the long-term opportunity: The opportunity in individual African markets might seem quite small but, “the size of the prize might be big over a longer period of time. If you are not in the game now, it will only get more difficult.”
  4. Find the right people to run your local operations: Make sure your managers fit in from a cultural perspective, and most crucially, make sure they and their families want to be in the market, “if the wife is not happy, it does not work.”

This last point was echoed by another executive from a leading South African industrial company who shared with me this Roman analogy which reflects his company’s talent strategy:

When in Rome…

One reason why the Roman Empire grew so large and survived so long – a prodigious feat of management – is that there was no railway, car, airplane, radio, paper or telephone. Above all, no telephone. And therefore you could not maintain any illusion of direct control over a general or provincial governor. You could not feel at the back of your mind that you could ring him up, or that he could ring you, if a situation cropped up which was too much for him, or that he could fly over and sort things out if they started to get in a mess.

You appointed him, you watched his chariot and baggage train disappear over the hill in a cloud of dust and that was that. There was, therefore no question of appointing a man who was not fully trained, or not quite up to the job; you knew that everything depended upon him being the best man for the job before he set off.

And so you took great care in selecting him; but more than that you made sure that he knew all about Roman government and the Roman army before he went out.

Stay tuned for more valuable insights as I meet more companies on the ground…