Invasion of Ukraine prompts exodus of companies from Russia
The invasion of Ukraine has prompted the west to impose harsh economic sanctions on Russia in the hope that it can isolate and crash its economy enough to stop the country from waging war on its neighbour.
This has prompted hundreds of western companies to pull out of Russia. While some have taken the decision simply to ensure they are not caught on the wrong side of new sanctions, others have stepped up and are withdrawing in protest against Russia’s actions in the hope an exodus of big-name brands and the loss of crucial services and vital goods will further squeeze the Russian economy and add pressure on president Vladimir Putin to stop his invasion. Some have also targeted Russia’s allies such as Belarus.
Most of the major corporations to have announced they are withdrawing from Russia have said this is on a temporary basis, leaving the door open to restarting their operations if the situation calms down, but some have pledged to sever ties altogether and sell any investments or interests they have in the country.Read more: What is ESG investing?
However, this will be a costly affair for all involved. It will not only hit sales and earnings, but those looking to sell-up entirely are already preparing to book large write-downs on their investments and are likely to struggle to find a willing buyer in the current climate and may have to offload them at a significant discount. The fact Moscow has responded to foreign businesses trying to flee by making it more difficult for foreign companies to sell their Russian assets is another major headwind.
What companies have pulled out of Russia?
Let’s have a look at what companies have started to pull out of Russia in response to the invasion and the impact this could have on their businesses. You can click on a sector below to jump straight to that section:
- Banks, payments and financial
- TV, film, music and gaming
- Food and drink
- Luxury goods
Russian oil has become the latest target of western governments aiming to apply pressure on the country through sanctions after the US, UK and Europe all outlined plans to reduce their reliance on Russia for their energy needs, albeit at different paces. That in turn has raised the threat that Russia could cut off gas supplies to Europe, which sources around 40% of its gas from the country.
In the UK, BP has announced it is cutting ties with Russia, where it is the country’s biggest foreign investor, after 30 years by selling its 19.75% stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft, even though it may have to offload it at a significant discount and will book billions in write-downs as a result. There are also questions about whether it can find a buyer in the current environment. BP will also no longer recognise a share of Rosneft’s production, reserves or earnings as its own, with the Russian firm having accounted for about one-fifth of its underlying net income in 2021.Read more: BP to offload its stake in Rosneft
Meanwhile, Shell took a little longer to commit to its exit from Russia after apologising for buying Russian oil after the invasion started and claiming it was necessary to keep supplies flowing to Europe, only to then make a remorseful U-turn by committing to phase out all involvement in Russian oil and gas ‘as fast as possible’, including its exit from its stake in the Sakhalin 2 LNG plant it runs with Russian firm Gazprom and its involvement in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was due to bolster supplies of Russian gas into Europe before being suspended by Germany after the conflict began. It has warned some refineries will have to run below capacity in the meantime.
Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil has said it will discontinue operations at the Sakhalin-1 project and planning to exit the venture and said it will not invest any new sums in Russia. European players have also moved to reduce exposure, with Italian outfit Eni, which has a limited presence in the Russia, withdrawing from the Blue Stream gas pipeline that was set to link Russia and Turkey, although again there are questions over who will buy its stake. Norway’s state-owned outfit Equinor has also said it is stopping all investments in Russia and pulling out of all its joint ventures in the country.Read more: What countries produce the most oil?
Banks, payments and financial firms
Russia’s financial system has been rocked since the invasion began. One of the main countermoves taken by western governments has been the decision to ban most of Russia’s banks from Swift, the main international messaging system used for cross-border payments around the globe, making it difficult for Russian firms to engage with the global economy and forcing them to use the country’s own system. This in turn has prompted a large number of major financial firms to suspend operations in the country in order to avoid falling foul of the new sanctions.
Mastercard said its network will no longer support any cards issued by Russian banks and that cards issued outside of Russia will not work at cash machines or in stores. Visa has taken similar steps to cease all transactions in the country. Notably, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky had asked the pair to take action just days before they made their announcements. Reports suggest the pair earn around 4% of their net revenues from Russia, with a further 1% to 2% from Ukraine.
American Express has followed them and also stopped doing business in Russia, as well as Belarus, and PayPal wasn’t far behind when it said all services in Russia would be shut down.
The sanctions imposed on Russian banks has also prompted western counterparts to act in order to ensure they won’t get caught up in the turmoil, with the likes of HSBC starting to wind-down relations with firms like VTB, Russia’s second largest bank, although has very minimal exposure to the country. Finnish outfit Nordea Bank, which is the largest lender in the Baltics region, has also pulled out of the country.
Russian companies also face a struggle get their finances audited considering Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers – often referred to as the world’s Big Four accounting firms – have all moved to separate their operations in Russia (and Belarus in some cases).
One of the biggest hits Russia will face amid the mass exit of western companies is tech, with almost every major US tech player having taken a hard stance against the country since the invasion started.
Semiconductor firms that are responsible for supplying the chips that power everything from cars to smartphones have started to halt sales to Russia, with reports suggesting the world’s largest chip foundry firm Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co as well as Advanced Micro Devices, NVIDIA, Intel and Samsung have stopped sending chips and other tech to the country. Although Russia does have its own homegrown chip industry, most of them rely on TSMC to actually manufacture their designs and the country is likely to struggle to find alternative supplies.
Meanwhile, other tech outfits including but not limited to IBM, Dell, Oracle and Cisco have suspended sales and stopped taking on new customers in Russia.
Apple has closed its retail stores and stopped selling its iPhone and other products while other services like Apple Pay have been limited. Some reports have suggested Apple could be losing up to $3 million a day in iPhone sales as a result, which would equate to over $1.1 billion on an annual basis. Google-owner Alphabet has so far kept its search engine and other key services such as Maps and YouTube available in Russia, but has disabled some features and removed apps linked to Russian-state media outlets from its Play Store. Microsoft has also suspended sales of its products and services and has halted certain aspects of its operations to adhere to sanctions. It has also said it is working to help bolster Ukraine’s cybersecurity.
Amazon has also stopped taking on new customers for Amazon Web Services, which is the largest cloud-computing company in the world, but continues to provide its service to existing clients. Notably, Amazon’s core ecommerce marketplace does not operate in Russia. Microsoft’s Azure cloud division has approached the situation in the same way.
TV, film, music and gaming
Russia’s entertainment sector is also experiencing a mass withdrawal from western firms, starving the country of films, TV, games and social media.
Netflix said it was pulling out of Russia to protest against the invasion and that it was pressing pause on all future projects in the country while halting existing ones, including filming of its latest Russian-language series. It also said it would not add Russian state media channels to its service despite a new law being introduced requiring it to do so. Disney was the first major US studio to take action by pulling its releases from Russia’s film slate, although has said that Russia and Ukraine only account for about 2% of its operating income. WarnerMedia, owned by AT&T, followed and said the new Batman film would no longer be released in Russia, while ViacomCBS’s Paramount has also temporarily suspended the release of new films.
Gaming firms Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard have all stopped selling games and digital products in both Russia and Belarus. Japanese firm Nintendo has also locked Russians out from its online store after the firm decided to stop accepting payments in rouble following the steep fall in its value since the conflict started. Microsoft, which runs Xbox, has also suspended sales of its gaming products while PlayStation-owner Sony is thought to have halted the release of its new Gran Turismo title despite having kept quiet on the situation so far.
Elsewhere, others have tried to ensure that people are not swayed by propaganda or misleading information about the conflict as social media platforms like Facebook-owner Meta and Tik Tok’s Bytedance seek to remove or limit content coming from Russia-state media. However, this has also prompted a response from Russia, which has now started to limit or even block social media sites to prevent Russians from viewing news produced overseas, prompting a surge in demand for Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that help citizens circumnavigate any location-based restrictions. Twitter said yesterday that it was trying to restore its service in the country as users struggle to access its platform under the new government rules.
Snapchat’s owner Snap has also stopped running all advertising in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine in order to avoid falling foul of sanctions. Spotify has also looked to silence outfits like RT and Sputnik from its services outside the country, but has so far refrained from pulling the plug on its service in Russia altogether despite closing its new offices.
Food and drink
Major western food and drink brands have also decided to temporarily halt sales and close their stores across Russia.
McDonalds has closed all 850 of its stores but has said it is continuing to pay its 62,000 employees in the country. Notably, whereas McDonalds typically franchises its restaurants out in most countries, it owns most of its Russian stores, which are thought to have accounted for around 9% of global sales last year. Coffee giant Starbucks has also suspended all business activities and stopped sending supplies while simultaneously committing to support its 2,000 franchisees. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, as well as some beer brewers including Carlsberg and Heineken, have also halted sales and advertising in Russia. Notably, some western supermarkets have also started to remove Russian-made brands from their shelves.
Elsewhere, major consumer brands like Unilever and Kraft Heinz have also stopped shipping goods in and out of Russia and halted advertising in the country.
Russian high streets are also feeling the heat as western tenants shut up shop.
Nike, Puma and Adidas are among sporting goods retailers to have closed their stores and suspended online sales in Russia, with the latter warning it will take a EUR250 million hit as a result. Other clothing retailers have taken similar action, including jeans maker Levi Strauss and Swedish fashion brand H&M.
Meanwhile, TJX, the parent firm of TJ Maxx and TK Maxx, has said it plans to sell its 25% stake in Russian low-cost retail chain Familia that it bought for around $225 million back in 2019, although it does not have any direct operations in the country. Swedish flat-pack furniture specialist IKEA has also seen a flood of demand as Russians try to buy what they can after it warned it was also temporarily closing stores and stopping the import and export of goods and materials in and out of Russia and Belarus.
One area of retail that has acted swiftly is the luxury goods market, which is hugely popular in Russia. Figures from Statista suggest the market, covering everything from cosmetics and perfume to handbags and clothing, is worth some $4.7 billion in sales each year.
Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Kering, Chanel, Prada and Estee Lauder are among those to have shut stores and boutiques and halted deliveries to the country despite luxury goods having so far evaded western sanctions, meaning they could still be shipped into the country. However, the exit of western payment firms makes international payments more difficult and others have highlighted operational problems getting stuff across the border.
Unlike other industries that have chosen to review their businesses in Russia, airlines have been forced to overhaul the way they work in order to get around the ban on civilian aircraft in Russia and Ukraine. Airlines and shipping companies are having to reroute their trips to navigate the new lines drawn on the map, forcing them to spend more on fuel at a time when oil prices are soaring higher due to the conflict.
Meanwhile, Russia’s domestic players have also been pushed to the brink of collapse after several countries banned the country’s aircraft from their airspace, while getting their hands on everything from insurance to key aviation services has been hampered as key companies like Airbus and Boeing withdraw from the country because of a new ban on shipping aircraft and components into Russia. The two airplane makers are though to account for around 70% of Russia’s commercial fleet of around 880 planes and around 37 orders that have not yet been fulfilled are thought to now be at risk. Other key service providers like Rolls Royce, Safran and GE Aviation have also stopped servicing the Russian market. Meanwhile, companies that lease planes to Russian firms are now racing to get the $10 billion worth of aircraft back and are likely to face huge difficulties.
This has all had a knock-on effect on the wider travel industry. For example, Airbnb has also suspended all listings in Russia and Belarus and limited their citizen’s ability to book new stays. It has also pledged to provide rooms for up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing the crisis. Other travel firms including Expedia and Booking.com have also suspended operations in Russia.
Notably, ride-hailing giant Uber has also said it is accelerating plans to selloff its interests in a joint venture with Russian internet firm Yandex after announcing last year it would offload the stake. The firm said it is now looking to exit faster than previously planned and that its three nominees on the Yandex board have resigned.
Some of the world’s largest logistics companies including FedEx and UPS have halted their delivery services in Russia and in Ukraine. Major shipping companies that are also having to adapt to new geographical restrictions like western airlines have also taken action, with Maersk, the Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC) and French company CMA CGM all having stopped taking bookings for goods from Russia and suspended the majority of deliveries into the country – although they continue to ship essential goods like food and medical goods.
The automotive sector, which is grappling with a variety of headwinds amid global supply chain bottlenecks, a shortage of components and rising costs, has given one of the strongest signals out of all the industries by pulling back from Russia.
Volkswagen has shuttered two of its factories in the country until further notice, Toyota has halted operations at its one plant in Russia, while Daimler Truck has stopped working on its joint venture with Russian firm Kamaz and said it will stop supplying the firm with components. Mercedes-Benz has also said it will divest of its stake in Kamaz. Ford has told its partner in the region named Sollers that operations have been suspended. Toyota and Nissan have also closed down production at their plants in the country.
Even those without physical operations in Russia have stopped exporting cars to customers in the country, including British brands Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover, European player BMW, US outfits General Motors and Harley Davidson, Japanese firm Honda and Swedish outfit Volvo.
Meanwhile, reports have suggested Renault is set to have a tougher time as Russia is its second-largest market considering it has a controlling stake in AvtoVaz. It has not indicated it is looking to offload its interest in the Russian firm. Russia contributed round EUR5 billion to Renault’s overall revenue last year and hundreds of millions of euros in profits are now thought to be at risk.
How to trade the exodus out of Russia
The impact any withdrawal from Russia will have will vary business to business depending on their exposure to the country. Investors and traders need to evaluate company earnings reports and other information to gauge how much it relies on the country not only in terms of sales and earnings but also for supplies. This will help evaluate how it could impact the company’s valuation and prospects.
It is important to remember that the conflict in Ukraine is impacting the entire global economy and hitting companies even if they don’t have direct exposure by fuelling inflation as the price of everything from wheat to oil spirals higher thanks the Russia’s huge role in the commodity market.For now, the conflict only offers downside for most companies that now face higher costs and more disruption, but we could see these fears unwind should tensions ease enough to reinstall confidence in the markets.
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