Why Hong Kong investors may find Russia newly attractive
Donald Gasper says fresh accords between Moscow and the SAR, including a double taxation agreement, make bargains of Russian assets
The recent visit to Hong Kong by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkadiy Dvorkovich indicates that relations with Moscow are about to enter a new stage. “We are committed to expanding and advancing co-operation between Hong Kong and Russia in every sphere,” Dvorkovich told the Asian Financial Forum, noting that contact between the heads of various agencies and business communities had become increasingly regular. Cultural ties have also gained momentum, with concerts, exhibitions and other events featuring Russian participants.
Hong Kong and Russia signed a comprehensive double taxation agreement, under which interest payments will be exempt from withholding tax. This makes Russian assets, now considered bargains due to the fall in the value of the rouble, even more attractive for Hong Kong investors.
Dvorkovich visited the Hong Kong stock exchange, which has just recognised Russia as an “acceptable jurisdiction” of incorporation for listing candidates.
Following the International Monetary Fund’s recent approval of the yuan as a reserve currency, Russia has announced it is preparing to raise US$1 billion by launching yuan-denominated bonds in Moscow. Over the past few years, Russian banks have issued a number of yuan-denominated bonds in Hong Kong, but these will be the first sovereign issue in Moscow. The move could help boost trade and investment between China, Russia and other emerging markets, to be conducted in the countries’ own currencies, thus bypassing the US dollar. Dvorkovich said Moscow was looking for help from Hong Kong in promoting the bonds.
He also said that an investment promotion and protection agreement between Russia and the SAR would be finalised this year.
All this will be good news for Russian companies currently barred by sanctions from raising capital in the US or much of Europe. But is Russia an attractive partner for foreign companies, given its economic problems? Certainly, the difficulties have spurred it to streamline procedures for trade. Representatives of several foreign companies who I met in Moscow in December said they believed Russia offered great opportunities to do business.
In Russia’s favour are very low overall external debt, a conservative fiscal policy, flexible exchange rate, its position as a net creditor of other countries and, of course, its rich natural resource base. In the words of Viktor Vekselberg, one of Russia’s richest men, there are “huge opportunities” for both sides.
Donald Gasper is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator