After War, Capital Inflows May Only Reach $25Bln

Capital inflows into Russia will likely be more than one-third lower than thought before its military conflict with Georgia began, as investors rush for the exits, a poll showed.

Sentiment was already soured by wrangles over TNK-BP and a government attack on coal miner Mechel, helping send the dollar-denominated RTS Index to a two-year low and prompting several major banks to close their long recommendations on the ruble.

A poll of 22 analysts in Russia and across Europe taken Sept. 3 to 8 showed a median forecast for net capital investment into Russia this year of $25 billion, down from $40 billion they predicted before the conflict started.

Forecasts range from zero to $50 billion.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war last month after Tbilisi sent in troops to try to seize back the rebel region of South Ossetia, provoking massive retaliation by Moscow.

But the conflict cannot be entirely blamed for sharp downgrades to investment. A sudden decline in oil prices from a peak near $150 per barrel in July to about $105 at present has also dented the investment outlook for Russia.

"The deterioration of market sentiment on Russia on the back of the rise in political risk premium ... has already led to massive outflows from Russian assets and should prevent international capital from coming back soon," said Alexander Morozov, chief economist for HSBC in Moscow.

With the Central Bank estimating that inflows for the first eight months of the year totaled $25.4 billion, the analysts' forecast implies that capital won't return in the final quarter.

That is in stark contrast to the view of officials -- from the Central Bank to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- who have stuck to their 2008 inflows estimate of $30 billion to $40 billion.

But while the forecast in the near term does not look good, most analysts expect investment to pick up once tensions ease. "We estimate that the Georgia conflict caused outflows of about $10 billion. But we do not believe that the conflict will lead to sustained capital outflow, barring renewed armed confrontation in the region," said Zsolt Papp, chief economist at KBC Investments in London. He forecast net capital flows at $15 billion this year, down from $35 billion before the Georgia conflict.