Presidential Summit Prompts Renewed Blue Chip Investment in Russia

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev opened the first day of their Moscow summit Monday by signing a preliminary agreement to reduce their countries’ nuclear arsenals. While many of the summit’s agenda items will be military in nature, a broader outcome of this week’s meeting may be measured by the future growth of blue chip stocks.

Russia has been an important market for many of the world’s largest companies. From 1998 through 2008, Russia’s economy grew by an average annual rate of +7.0% — one of the world’s most impressive economic track records for the decade.

But many companies were put in the position of reevaluating their Russian expansion plans last year, following the country’s altercation with Georgia. The conflict precipitated a period of heightened tension between Russia and the U.S. and represented higher investment risk for large U.S.-based companies.

As the current U.S.-Russia summit unfolds, however, and plans for additional exchanges solidify, the perceived investment risk in Russia is abating. It is not at all coincidental that as the two national presidents made their announcements regarding the progress of their historic meeting today, CEO’s of some of the largest U.S. companies made announcements of their own.

PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) said it would be upping its investment in Russia by an additional $1 billion during the next three years. Pepsi set up operations in Russia in 1974 — the first U.S. company to do so. Pepsi chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi said, “This investment reflects very clearly our great confidence in Russia and our long-term commitment to this very important market.” Approximately 22% of Pepsi’s sales come from its International Division.

Also on Monday, the world’s largest agricultural equipment company, Deere & Co (NYSE: DE), said it, too, would be looking to expand its manufacturing operations in Russia. Samuel Allen, Deere’s incoming CEO said the company “could envision a series of significant investments over the next five to seven years in expanded capacity for manufacturing and supporting all types of Deere equipment.” Deere currently has product dealers across Russia and an equipment manufacturing operation in Orenburg.

In 2008, 41% of Deere’s net sales were derived outside of North America. Sales from Central Europe and the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) grew +83% year-over-year. The estimated amount of arable land in the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Russia is greater than that in the U.S., which bodes well for Deere’s continued growth from the CIS.

While reduced international tensions make it safer for U.S. companies to invest in Russia for the long term, the country still poses ample risk for U.S. investors in the short term. Last month the World Bank cut its GDP estimates for Russia, forecasting the country’s economy would shrink by -7.9% in 2009 and grow moderately by +2.5% in 2010. And Russia-specific funds like Market Vectors Russia ETF (NYSE: RSX) are heavily weighted in energy and basic materials, sectors that appear to be under fire once again.

To profit from warming U.S.-Russian relations, investors may have to have to take a longer view — just as Pepsi and John Deere appear to be doing. And of course, one way to do that is by investing in a blue chip company with exposure to Russia, like Pepsi or Deere.