【英语财经】俄罗斯科技企业为何落后于中印? Russia slides from technological superpower to also-ran

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2016-3-23 22:11

小艾摘要: Earlier this year, the FT wrote that, as far as emerging market equity investors are concerned, the Brics are dead, and have been replaced by the Ticks.The rationale was that the collapse in commodity ...
Russia slides from technological superpower to also-ran
Earlier this year, the FT wrote that, as far as emerging market equity investors are concerned, the Brics are dead, and have been replaced by the Ticks.

The rationale was that the collapse in commodity prices has badly holed the economies of Brazil and Russia which, in alliance with China and India, had formed the Brics quartet dreamt up by Jim O’Neill, then chief economist of Goldman Sachs, in 2001.

Instead, equity investors were buying into the Ticks, which feature Taiwan and (South) Korea, alongside China and India, ignominiously dumping Brazil and Russia in the process, as the first chart shows.

A key driver of the trend was the rise of technology companies in emerging markets, a sector in which each of the Ticks excels but Brazil and Russia do not.

As the second chart shows, tech stocks account for 35.9 per cent of Taiwan’s stock market capitalisation, 14.1 per cent of the Indian market and 9 per cent of that of South Korea.

Admittedly, technology stocks only constitute 4.8 per cent of China’s mainland equity market, but this is misleading.

As China’s onshore A shares are not yet included in MSCI’s flagship Emerging Market index, which is followed by most EM fund managers, what is meant by “China” is really Hong Kong.

As the chart shows, Hong Kong has an 11.6 per cent weighting to tech stocks. Moreover, many of China’s largest technology companies, such as Alibaba, Baidu and Netease, are listed in New York but are also included in the MSCI EM index (as indeed are Taiwan and South Korea, for those who get hot under the collar about the FT describing them as emerging markets).

Yet tech stocks account for just 4.1 per cent of the Russian stock market. This, admittedly, is not a pitifully low level: it is higher than in the European Union, Canada, Australia and poor old Brazil, where the weighting towards tech is a princely 0.3 per cent.

Yet, to someone whose formative years were lived during the cold war, when the Soviet Union and its arch nemesis the US were the two technological superpowers dominating the planet, it still seems odd.

The USSR was, of course, the first country to launch an artificial earth satellite and to send a man into space. Its rockets remain the only way astronauts, even those from the west, can reach the International Space Station.

The Soviet Union’s strength in physics and mathematics ensured the country could match the best of America’s military technology, particularly in the nuclear sphere.

So it might seem slightly puzzling that, when it comes to producing technology companies, Russia now lags so far behind the likes of China and India. “What the hell has gone wrong?” asks one person with knowledge of Russian industry.

There appears to be little consensus as to what precisely has gone wrong, and what Moscow needs to do to better exploit its impressive scientific legacy.

To David Lubin, head of emerging markets economics at Citi, part of the answer lies in Russia’s limited freedom of expression.

“No one in Russia has much sense of being able to do things. I guess the explanation for that is deep in the political system and political culture. You have got to allow dissent and disagreement and artistic self expression to allow the innovation that technology relies on,” he says.

“To have depth you need to have political freedom, and no one does that like the US,” adds Mr Lubin, who cites the example of Lady Gaga, an often outlandishly attired singer, performing during the half-time interval of this year’s Super Bowl, the most watched event in the US television calendar, as an example of the sort of cultural freedom Russia would never countenance.

Having said that, countries such as China are not particularly noted for encouraging freedom of thought and expression either.

In contrast Charles Robertson, global chief economist at Renaissance Capital, a Moscow-based investment bank, believes Russia has been a little more successful in the tech field than might at first appear.

Mr Robertson cites the examples of Yandex, Russia’s answer to Google, and Mail.Ru, an internet group controlled by billionaire Alisher Usmanov. Perhaps less intuitively, he also argues Magnit, the country’s largest food retailer, can be regarded as a tech company.

“Retail is about logistics and the management of logistics. Magnit has developed [those operations] itself. It’s very sophisticated, it’s like Amazon,” Mr Robertson says.

More broadly, he is hopeful that a “big push” from the Russian government to develop small and medium-sized enterprises will help improve the situation further.

“They know they have got too few people working in SMEs and too many in large companies. It’s about letting SMEs thrive and I think a lot of it will come in tech,” Mr Robertson says.

Konstantin Styrin, assistant professor of economics at Moscow’s New Economic School, believes the main obstacle is the “poor quality of institutions” such as the rule of law, protection of property rights and the lack of an independent judiciary.

Although these deficiencies are likely to sap activity across all industries, he believes the technology sector may be particularly sensitive to the quality of institutions because of its relatively high-risk nature.

“Excessive regulation” is another handicap, Mr Styrin argues. “Businesses must comply with a huge number of rules and regulations. Many people believe that following all of them would be prohibitively costly. This implies that every firm has to violate some of those rules and therefore is vulnerable in the face of an inspection by tax authorities, fire department, etc.”

Edward Crawley, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-founder of the Moscow-based Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, instead argues that the root of the problem stems from the break-up of the communist system.

While the US still has an array of national laboratories and corporate research and development centres, many of the equivalent institutions in Russia “completely ceased to exist” when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

As a result, the bridge between universities and commerce was broken, a disconnect the Skolkovo centre was designed to help rectify.

“There are very few sectors where you can take an idea right out of university and make a company of it. The maturation process of technology through to delivery into a product usually requires several intermediary steps,” Prof Crawley says.

He argues that the UK, another country with a respectable academic scientific tradition but little success in producing tech companies (a meagre 1.5 per cent of the UK’s market cap) suffers from the same problem.

“There are some similarities between the systems in Russia and the UK, which also has excellent universities and good industry and also doesn’t have a connection [between them],” Prof Crawley says.

Between 2003 and 2006 he was executive director of the Cambridge-MIT Institute, a joint venture with the British university, and he welcomes the creation of a series of “catapult centres” by the UK government to attempt to address this disconnect.

Despite the problems in Russia, Prof Crawley argues the country has still had some success in developing tech companies in sectors with “low capitalisation”, such as Yandex and Kaspersky Lab, a privately held data security group.

It has also retained its “excellence” in a handful of strategic industries such as aeronautics, nuclear energy and space technology, he argues, where the country has done a better job in keeping the intermediary chain alive.

David Nangle, managing director of Vostok Emerging Finance, a venture capital group specialising in fintech, believes Russia’s struggles are wider than just a difficulty in commercialising technology.

“Even if you look beyond technology, Russians don’t export well. The global brands that come out of Russia are few and far between. It exports people well, not brands and technology,” says Mr Nangle, who lived in Russia for six years.

He points out that a good number of chief technical officers in Silicon Valley and in Israel’s tech sector are from the former Soviet Union, such as Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal, suggesting the pipeline of talent is there.

The problem, he believes, is that Russia does not have the “enabling environment” of somewhere like Silicon Valley, which has “an ease of doing business, a lack of fear of failure and the belief that you can do anything”.

In addition, Silicon Valley has an abundance of capital, something he says Russian tech companies are starved of.

“It’s very hard to get global capital to want to support young companies in Russia, but they are willing to put billions into some other countries,” he says.

“Many global private equity houses are prepared to look at other emerging markets like Asia and Brazil, but currently not Russia. I was in Pakistan last week and global [investors] are starting to invest there,” says Mr Nangle, whose own firm is endeavouring to buck the trend with investments in TCS Group Holding, a London-listed provider of online retail financial services under the Tinkoff brand, and Revo, an early-stage merchant payments company.

While western sanctions imposed in the wake of the Ukraine conflict currently muddy the water, Mr Nangle says even before that many investors were concerned about corporate governance in Russia, although he argues this is an issue across many emerging markets.

He remains “a believer” in the medium-term opportunities in the Russian online, ecommerce and general tech sectors, citing the likes of TCS and Yandex. Yet, he fears Russia may have now missed its window of opportunity to fully regain its cold war-era strength.

“Overall, I think it’s a massive opportunity lost. Russia could have gone toe-to-toe with the US in developing another Silicon Valley. Education systems in Asia are going to crush the world, let alone Russia,” he says, envisaging Asian dominance of the tech sphere in a generation’s time.

Prof Crawley, at least, is more optimistic. He says that scientific education, at least through to masters level, remains strong and “the standard of students we [Skolkovo] are able to attract is on a par with MIT, Cambridge and Oxford”.

In particular, he believes Russia’s ongoing strength in applied mathematics will, eventually, allow it to make its mark in areas such as IT networks, IT security and data analysis.

今年早些时候,英国《金融时报》曾写道,就新兴市场股票投资者而言,金砖国家(Brics)已经名存实亡,取代它的是Ticks。

理由是大宗商品价格下跌重创了巴西和俄罗斯经济。当年这两个国家连同中国和印度被时任高盛(Goldman Sachs)首席经济学家的吉姆?奥尼尔(Jim O'Neill)称为“金砖四国”(Bric)。

相反,今年早些时候股票投资者转而买入包含台湾和韩国的Ticks,同时大举抛售巴西和俄罗斯的股票,如图表一所示。

该趋势的关键推动因素是新兴市场科技公司崛起,Ticks所有经济体的科技股板块均表现出色,而巴西和俄罗斯的科技公司表现欠佳。

如图表二所示,科技股占台湾股市市值的比重为35.9%,占印度股市的比重为14.1%,占韩国股市比重为9%。

应该承认,科技股占中国内地股市的比重仅为4.8%,但是该数据具有误导性。

由于中国A股尚未被纳入多数新兴市场基金经理追踪的MSCI新兴市场指数,所谓的“中国”实际上是指香港。

如图表二所示,香港科技板块的比重为11.6%。此外,中国很多大型科技公司——比如阿里巴巴(Alibaba)、百度(Baidu)和网易(Netease)——都是在纽约上市,但是也被纳入MSCI新兴市场指数(台湾和韩国也是,这些经济体对于被英国《金融时报》形容为新兴市场感到不快)。

不过,科技股占俄罗斯股市的比重仅为4.1%。说实话,这并不是低得可怜的水平:它高于欧盟、加拿大、澳大利亚和可怜的巴西的科技股比重。科技股占巴西股市的比重仅有区区0.3%。

不过,对于那些在冷战时期——当时的苏联及其死对头美国是主宰整个地球的两个技术超级大国——长大的人来说,这看上去仍有些奇怪。

苏联当然是首个发射人造卫星、首个把宇航员送入太空的国家。俄罗斯的火箭至今仍是宇航员(包括西方宇航员)进入国际空间站的唯一方式。

苏联在物理和数学方面的优势确保了它可以与美国的尖端军事技术、特别是核技术相匹敌。

因此,或许有点令人费解的是,在孕育科技企业方面,俄罗斯如今远远落后于中国和印度等国家。“到底出了什么问题?”一名熟悉俄罗斯工业的人士问道。

对于俄罗斯到底出了什么问题、莫斯科方面需要采取什么行动才能更好地挖掘其令人印象深刻的科技遗产,各方似乎没有什么共识。

在花旗(Citi)的新兴市场经济主管戴维?卢宾(David Lubin)看来,部分原因在于俄罗斯的言论自由有限。

“俄罗斯没人具有自己能够成就一番事业的感觉。我猜其原因深植于政治体制和政治文化。你必须允许异见、分歧和艺术性的自我表达,才能使科技赖以发展的创新涌现出来,”他称。

“要有深度,你必须具有政治自由,在这一点上没有国家能像美国那样,”卢宾称,他以Lady Gaga今年在美国电视收视率最高的盛事超级碗(Super Bowl)中场休息时献唱为例,说明在俄罗斯永远得不到支持的那种文化自由。Lady Gaga是一位歌手,常常穿着离经叛道的奇特服装。

话虽如此,中国等国家也并不以鼓励思想自由和言论自由而闻名。

相反,莫斯科投行晋新资本(Renaissance Capital)的全球首席经济学家查尔斯?罗伯逊(Charles Robertson)认为,俄罗斯在科技领域比乍看之下更成功一些。

罗伯逊以俄罗斯版的谷歌(Google) Yandex、以及由亿万富翁爱利舍?乌斯马诺夫(Alisher Usmanov)控股的互联网集团Mail.Ru为例。他还认为,也许不那么直观的是,俄罗斯最大的食品零售商Magnit可以被视为科技公司。

“零售是关于物流和物流管理的行业。Magnit自己发展了这些业务。这些业务的技术含量很高,就像亚马逊(Amazon),”罗伯逊称。

整体而言,他对俄罗斯政府“大力推动”中小企业发展将进一步改善局面抱有希望。

“他们知道在中小企业工作的人太少了,在大企业工作的人太多了。这其中的关键在于让中小企业蓬勃发展,我认为很多中小企业将在科技行业涌现,”罗伯逊称。

莫斯科新经济学院(New Economic School)经济学助理教授康斯坦丁?斯特林(Konstantin Styrin)认为,主要障碍在于法治、产权保护、缺乏独立司法体系等“制度劣质”。

尽管这些缺陷很可能抑制所有行业的活力,但是他认为,由于相对高风险的特性,科技行业对制度质量可能格外敏感。

斯特林认为,“过度监管”是另一个障碍。“企业必须遵守大量的规章制度。很多人认为遵循所有规章制度的代价过于高昂。这意味着每家公司都不得不违反部分法规,因此他们在面对税务、消防等部门的检查时相当脆弱。”

麻省理工学院(Massachusetts Institute of Technology)航空航天学教授、莫斯科的斯科尔科沃理工学院(Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology)的共同创始人爱德华?克劳利(Edward Crawley)则认为,问题的根源在于共产党体制解体。

美国仍然拥有一大批国家实验室和企业研发中心,而俄罗斯的很多类似机构在1991年苏联解体时“彻底关停”了。

其结果是高校与商界之间的桥梁垮塌,创办斯科尔科沃创新中心的初衷就是帮助纠正这种脱节。

“很少有什么行业是你可以从高校得到创意、然后以此打造一家公司的。从技术到产品的成熟过程通常需要一些中间步骤,”克劳利称。

他认为,同样拥有受人尊敬的学术科学传统、但在孕育科技企业方面鲜有建树的英国受制于同样的问题。科技企业在英国股市的市值占比仅为区区1.5%。

“俄罗斯和英国的体制之间存在一些相似性,英国也拥有出色的大学和经营有方的工业,(但两者之间)也没有衔接,”克劳利教授称。

2003年至2006年间,克劳利曾担任剑桥—麻省理工研究院(Cambridge-MIT Institute,与剑桥共同成立的合资企业)的执行董事。他欢迎英国政府创建一系列“弹射中心”(catapult centre)以解决这种脱节的举措。

尽管俄罗斯存在问题,但克劳利教授认为该国在“低资本化”行业发展科技公司方面还是有一些成功,比如Yandex和私有的数据安全集团卡巴斯基实验室(Kaspersky Lab)。

他认为,俄罗斯也保留了其在少数战略性产业(比如航空、核能源和空间技术)的“卓越”,同时该国在保持中介链活力方面做得比较好。

专注金融科技的风险资本集团沃斯托克新兴金融(Vostok Emerging Finance)的董事总经理戴维?南戈尔(David Nangle)认为,俄罗斯的困难不仅在于技术商业化。

“即使你考虑科技以外的领域,俄罗斯人在出口方面也鲜有建树。出自俄罗斯的全球品牌少之又少。它输出了优秀人才,但品牌和技术不行,”曾在俄罗斯生活了6年的南戈尔称。

他指出,硅谷和以色列科技行业有很多来自前苏联的首席技术官,比如PayPal联合创始人马克斯?莱文奇恩(Max Levchin),这似乎表明俄罗斯能够源源不断地培养人才。

他认为,问题是俄罗斯没有像硅谷那样“让人施展才华的环境”,硅谷拥有“便利的营商条件、无惧失败、以及一切皆有可能的信念”。

另外,硅谷拥有充足的资本,南戈尔称这是俄罗斯科技企业得不到的。

“很难说服全球资本支持俄罗斯的年轻企业,尽管它们愿意在其他一些国家投入巨资,”他称。

“很多全球私人股本公司都准备看看亚洲和巴西等其他新兴市场,但是目前并未考虑俄罗斯。我上周去了巴基斯坦,全球(投资者)正开始投资那里,”南戈尔称。他自己的公司正努力逆势而行,投资了在伦敦上市的在线金融零售服务提供商TCS Group Holding(以Tinkoff为品牌)以及处于发展初期的商家支付公司Revo。

尽管目前西方因乌克兰冲突而对俄罗斯实施的制裁使情况变得复杂,但南戈尔称,即使是在制裁之前也有很多投资者担心俄罗斯的企业治理,尽管他辩称这是很多新兴市场普遍存在的问题。

他仍然相信俄罗斯的在线、电子商务和一般技术行业存在中期机遇,并以TCS和Yandex之类的公司为例证。不过,他担心俄罗斯可能已经错过了全面恢复冷战时代实力的机遇之窗。

“总的来说,我认为它失去了重大机遇。俄罗斯原本可以和美国并驾齐驱,打造另一个硅谷。亚洲的教育体系将会碾压世界,更别提俄罗斯了,”南戈尔称。他预测亚洲将在一代人时间里主导科技领域。

至少克劳利教授更乐观些。他称,俄罗斯的理科教育仍然强大,至少在硕士级别或以下是如此,“我们斯科尔科沃可以吸引到的学生的水准与MIT、剑桥和牛津不相上下”。

特别是,他认为俄罗斯在应用数学方面保持的强大实力,最终将使其IT网络、IT安全和数据分析等领域取得成就。

译者/马柯斯

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