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this year, the FT wrote that, as far as emerging market equity investors are concerned, the Brics are dead, and have been replaced by the Ticks.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.
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)。
“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。
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。
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”。
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。
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。
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。
“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。