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Originally published Sunday, September 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Markets

Russian markets roll over

The bear is faltering. Fears about a possible new Cold War — along with lower oil prices — have pushed resource-rich Russia's RTS index to its lowest point since 2006.

The bear is faltering. Fears about a possible new Cold War — along with lower oil prices — have pushed resource-rich Russia's RTS index to its lowest point since 2006.

Where it goes from here is difficult to determine, as experts are mixed on whether the Russian market will fall further or can find a bottom soon.

Not long ago, Russian equities were some of the world's biggest stars, along with the others in the so-called BRIC bloc of fast-growing nations — Brazil, India and China.

A cascade of trouble, though, has triggered a slide since July, since oil prices peaked at $147.27 per barrel on July 11. The two biggest components of the RTS are in the oil and gas business: Gazprom and Lukoil.

Most recently, conflicts in separatist areas of Georgia have ignited tensions between Russia and the U.S. and western Europe. "We are not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a Cold War," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said recently.

The tensions highlight the risk in the region, and investor confidence there "remains at rock bottom," according to JPMorgan strategist Peter Westin.

He thinks Russia's bid for membership in the World Trade Organization could be in jeopardy, and it may even be excluded from the G-8 economic group. He has an "underweight" rating on Russian stocks and expects global investors to continue to pull out of the country in favor of less-risky areas.

Credit Suisse analyst Vladimir Savov, though, says Russian valuations may be too enticing to resist. He estimates earnings growth in the RTS of 50 percent in 2008, with another 20 percent in 2009, with oil, steel and fertilizer companies offering big gains in particular.

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