Russian Stocks Ready For A Turnaround

by: Edgar Ambartsoumian

If you are a die hard Fast Money fan, then you have definitely heard Tim Seymour claim in the past that Vimpelcom Ltd (VIP) was one of the greatest Russian telecommunication stocks to own with immense growth potential. Another optimistic claim was made several years ago on Russian coal producer Mechel OAO (NYSE:MTL). Then it was reiterated on the show again on October 11th, 2011 and I quote: "I'd stay long this bombed out stock" by Tim in regards to Mechel. (At times, it is really hard to draw the fine line between entertainers and skillful fund managers.) In any case, while the Russian economy is regaining strength once again with the rising price of crude, these following stocks had lost at least half of their value in the past 6 months.

Let us start with Vimpelcom Ltd., the first Russian stock listed on NYSE. The increased popularity of Skype in emerging countries and fierce competition has made this telecommunications giant change its slogan to "Evolution is in our DNA", which, in my opinion, should be Netflix's (NASDAQ:NFLX) current slogan. The growth potential and the untapped markets that Vimpel is attempting to penetrate in Asia and Africa are sound, but presently company's net income is hurting from expanding in the wrong country in Europe -- Italy.

I'm not too fond of company's high level of debt, but I do like the management and their ability to evolve in a rapidly changing environment, by profiting from the broadband market in Ukraine. After a dreadful 6 month sell-off, VIP's short ratio has finally decreased from prior month of 5,373,400 to currently 5,290,000, as the stock found a bottom at $9.30 and began consolidating at $11 range. Company carries high level of debt, but is able to pay solid dividends and has a good track record in growing its EPS. Another competitor to consider in diversifying within the Russian telecommunication space is Mobile TeleSystems OJSC (NYSE:MBT).

Coal and metals company Mechel OAO began to rise at the end of October, but was quickly sold off to a new low after nickel and copper prices dropped substantially, causing a sell-off even in Russian natural gas and financial names. Russian coal exporters such as Mechel are heavily exposed to European instability, and the recent pledge of $10 billion through IMF to aid Europe is a major sign that Russians are concerned. Despite a moderate revenue growth, Mechel OAO's net income saw a decrease in Q2 by 37.9% to $191.9 mln from $309.12 mln in Q1. MTL's short ratio increased from 3,450,500 shares in the last month to now 4,347,900 shares. It is trading roughly 75% below its EV and has a PEG of 0.21. If you are a bottomfeeder (an investor who constantly scans stocks at 52 week lows), then this coal mining and metals company should definitely be on your watch list.

Can't forget about CTC Media Inc. (NASDAQ:CTCM). Company operates three Russian TV networks: CTC, Domashny and DTV. It also operates television networks in Kazakhstan and Moldova, offering entertainment programming. CTC made numerous acquisitions in 2011: 55.5% interest in TRK RIO OAO, 67% interest in Telekompaniya Salyut OOO, 48% interest in Kazan TV station as well as in St. Petersburg and Tomsk. After losing half of its value in the last 6 months, this media company's short ratio has decreased as well, declining from last month's 748,000 to currently 690,000. I consider this stock a value at current levels, since it has a strong balance sheet, conservative low debt level, a robust dividend yield of 9.65% and a P/E ratio of 9.4.

And the last name I want to mention is Central European Distribution Corp. (NASDAQ:CEDC), a vodka distributor that operates in Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Hungary. In 2010, it approximately produced and distributed 32.7 million 9 liter cases. This stock has been on a downtrend as well in the past year, and has been trading near its 52-week lows of $2.75 (currently $3.06). Short interest has decreased from 9,807,600 of last month to currently 9,590,700 as bears believe the stock can rise fairly quickly if it gains bullish momentum. I like CEDC's debt management as they like to stay away from short term obligations and strive to decrease their long term liabilities year over year. Having lived in Russia, I can attest to the idea that vodka is a safer commodity than gold to some citizens. (By no means is this an indication that one should start buying CEDC, just a stock market humor).


Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a long position in VIP, MTL over the next 72 hours.