By Alexander Winning and Andrey Ostroukh
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Seven big Russian companies are in advanced talks with the Moscow Exchange about listing their shares, the exchange's CEO says, highlighting corporate Russia's preference for listing at home amid sanctions and a standoff with the West.
Russian companies previously flocked to the likes of the London and New York bourses to bolster their international profile and tap deeper capital markets. But a sharp sell-off in Russian assets after the introduction of sanctions in 2014 led Russian officials to suggest companies consider delisting from foreign exchanges to shield themselves from external pressure.
The Moscow Exchange has also implemented important infrastructure reforms in recent years, including new settlement systems and a central securities depository, making a local listings more attractive.
“Now we have a pipeline of five to seven names,” Moscow Exchange CEO Alexander Afanasiev told Reuters, naming state shipping company Sovcomflot as one of those in talks about a possible initial public offering (IPO).
“I mean companies that aren't just interested but are already highly ready.”
Afanasiev said a desire among Russian businesses to delist from foreign exchanges in favor of a single Moscow listing is developing into a clear, if gradual, trend.
So far homebuilder PIK Group is one of the few Russian companies to announce concrete plans to delist from London and consolidate its shares on the Moscow Exchange.
Share issuance by Russian companies on foreign exchanges dropped sharply after the 2014 sanctions and a collapse in the price of oil, Russia's main export.
A Moscow listing is cheaper than one in London, where some of Russia's biggest companies still have global depositary receipts alongside a primary listing in Moscow.
“It's obvious that to have several listings is expensive and senseless,” Afanasiev said. “Delisting also takes investment … I don't see a motivation for issuers to rush to do this, but it's a trend and it will continue.”
No Russian companies have entered the London Stock Exchange since the West imposed sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, but 10 have listed in Moscow since the start of 2016.
There were new share placements worth 121 billion roubles (1.7 billion pounds) on the Moscow Exchange last year. So far this year, Moscow has hosted an IPO by children's goods retailer Detsky Mir and secondary offerings by pipemaker TMK and fertilizer company Phosagro.
Despite a strong rally in Moscow-listed shares last year, the bourse's two key indexes — the MICEX and RTS — are down by about a quarter in dollar terms from early 2014 because of large swings in the intervening period.
That turbulence, as well as the continuing sanctions, remains a deterrent to some conservative investors, such as pension funds.
For others, ultra-loose monetary policy by the world's leading central banks and signs that the Russian economy is starting to emerge from a two-year slump are viewed as reasons to invest.
The Moscow Exchange is Russia's largest exchange platform, offering trading in the bonds and equities of more than 700 mainly Russian issuers.
Although plans backed by President Vladimir Putin to turn Moscow into a global financial center have been hampered by the sanctions, the Moscow bourse still has international ambitions.
“We see ourselves as a leading regional exchange that is broader than just the Russian market,” Afanasiev said, adding that he is interested in attracting issuers from Russia's main trading partners.
One example of such is Kazakh company KTZ Finance, which launched a 15 billion rouble five-year bond this month.
Afanasiev also said the Moscow Exchange is ready for a debut issue of Russian government bonds in China's yuan currency, saying it merely needs to “press the button” once the Russian and Chinese governments agree on the delayed sale.
In the first four months of this year total bond issuance on the Moscow Exchange was 4 trillion roubles, compared with 2 trillion roubles for the whole of 2014.
“The Russian private investor has woken up,” Afanasiev said.