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INTERVIEW-Templeton's Mobius says rewards outweigh risks in Russia, Ukraine

Source: Reuters - Mon, 28 Apr 2014 15:56 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Russian stocks cheap and attractive: Mobius

* Says weak currency could boost Ukrainian exports

* Says Poland, Turkey attractive targets (Adds details, quotes, background)

By Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST, April 28 (Reuters) - The rewards for Templeton Emerging Markets Group's equity investments in Russia and Ukraine outweigh the risks, despite more Western sanctions coming into force against Russia, chairman Mark Mobius said.

The United States froze assets and imposed visa bans on seven powerful Russians close to President Vladimir Putin on Monday and also sanctioned 17 companies in reprisal for Moscow's actions in Ukraine. A U.S. official said European leaders were also considering more measures to punish Russia.

But the companies in which Templeton has invested in Ukraine have largely shrugged off the East-West standoff, Mobius told Reuters in an interview in the Romanian capital Bucharest on Monday. His emerging markets fund holds about $200 million in Ukrainian stocks and $500 million in Russian equities.

"Right now our calculation is that reward is better than the risk for both the Russian and Ukraine investments," said Mobius, a veteran emerging markets investor.

"Most of the assets and investments that we have in Ukraine are in the western side, the non-Russian speaking side. The word we're getting from the companies in which we invested is 'no big deal'. For Russia, prices have been really depressed, and the valuations are extremely attractive."

In Ukraine, the weaker hryvnia could help some companies in Templeton's portfolio by boosting their exports, Mobius said.

He envisioned a scenario in which "some accommodation (was) reached between Ukrainian authorities and the Russians to move more towards a federalist system, where the Russian-speaking parts of the country have some degree of autonomy."

UKRAINE'S LOSS, POLAND'S GAIN

If tensions in Ukraine were to escalate further, some businesses could leave Ukraine and set up shop in neighbouring Poland, Mobius said.

He also expects Polish stocks to continue to do well, despite a pension system overhaul last year when Warsaw shifted some assets held by private pension funds to the state, a widely criticised move that also dented market liquidity.

"The market could have probably done a lot better if they hadn't made those changes in the pension funds," he said.

"But despite that I think the Polish market will continue to do well. Performance has been good and there is no reason to believe that it won't continue because there are some terrific companies."

He sees Turkey, too, as an attractive investment option in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region, despite a corruption scandal and a tug of war over the constitution.

"The biggest attraction for us in CEE is consumer-oriented companies, because per capita income is going up ... and when I say consumer I include consumer banking. That whole area is quite attractive to us." (Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by Matthias Williams/Ruth Pitchford)

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