Pre-Holiday Market Shows Little Activity

Trading on the stagnant Moscow securities markets remained patchy Friday and The Moscow Times Index barely shifted over the week, closing down 0.39 points at 145.30 as market makers prepared to take a break for the Christmas holidays.

"Trading is still very weak -- people are more involved in discussion of the market than in trading," said Sergei Skatershchikov, director of the Skate Press Consulting Agency. "Next week all the Western investors will be gone and the markets will effectively close."

Nevertheless, advancers led decliners in the ruble-based prices of the 30 companies listed in the MT Index, with 14 rising, nine falling and seven companies showing no change in the value of their stock. In dollar terms, however, the entire index fell 2.31 points over the week to close at 94.32.

Trading in Russian securities has been thin since October, after profit-taking by foreign hedge funds precipitated the market's first major correction.

Aluminum, however, is one area where there has been an upsurge of activity in recent weeks after Western investors expressed interest in taking equity positions in these companies. In particular, a report that the Aluminum Company of America intended to buy a 20 percent stake in the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Factory has stimulated growth in these shares, brokers say.

Krasnoyarsk Aluminum ended the week 14 percent up at 52,600 rubles, while Bratsk Aluminum showed growth of 3 percent at 76,350 rubles.

"The appearance of large investors which appear to have concrete plans has of course increased the value of shares in these companies," said Yury Ogoronik, an analyst with Olma brokerage house.

Skatershchikov cautioned, however, that Western aluminum investors have begun to leave the market after it was revealed that Krasnoyarsk Aluminum had arbitrarily deleted the British firm Transworld from the company's shareholders' list.

"Brokers seem depressed by the dirty affair," he said.

Shares in the Red October chocolate factory also registered strong growth as a result of the company's high-profile public share issue, gaining 17 percent on the week to close at 18,100 rubles. But analysts said the stock was set to decline next week, when they expect the company to announce that the share issue was greatly undersubscribed.

Demand was high for shares in the trading firm OLBI-Diplomat, which gained about 33 percent to end the week at 9,000 rubles apiece after languishing in the doldrums for several months. Analysts pointed to expectations that the company's first meeting of shareholders later this month would see increased investment in the trading company.

The financial sector is also set to pick up, analysts said, as investors seek to buy bank shares to cash in on annual dividends. Promstroibank this week saw its stock rise 8 percent to 57,250 rubles by Friday after announcing an annual payout of 1,000 rubles per share.

The Moscow Telephone Company continued its upward climb, rising some 12 percent to 441,350 rubles by Friday, despite a lack of information about the company's plans to auction its stock.

"Everyone knows its strategic potential, but no one knows any of the details," said Skatershchikov. "It's one of the few remaining hot stocks."

Stock in Permneftegaz, however, plunged by half from 16,800 rubles to just 8,400 rubles in a development that analysts said appeared to have no motivation.