Financial Ramifications of the UK Response to Russia’s Chemical Attack

From the outside, the purported Russian chemical attack in Salisbury, England is reminiscent of your favourite spy novel – one by John Le Carré, perhaps. The story might go a bit like this: a former Russian intelligence officer living in exile, enjoying lunch with his daughter at a popular local Italian restaurant, only to be found left for dead on a nearby park bench alongside a range of questions like How? Why? And Who? Unfortunately, this compelling drama isn’t a novel but real life, and as British-Russian relations tumble to a post-Cold War low as a result, how will this ordeal impact these two great nations’ economies?

By of the end of March 2018, over 200 diplomats have already been expelled from over 20 countries in Europe, Australasia, and North America in solidarity with the UK against Russia’s alleged aggression. NATO has further removed 7 diplomats from their alliance.  Since the attack, Russia has haemorrhaged political influence as countries turn their back on them to condemn their aggressive behaviour. The question on everyone’s mind is, could this soon escalate and become a financial Cold War?

The London property market and UK banks have long been known to shelter the money of Russian oligarchs. British Prime Minister Theresa May and her government are in the process of deciding whether they should clamp down on these assets and impose a ban on the City of London from helping Russia sell its sovereign debt, a process which props up their economy. It would certainly send a strong message to Moscow that Britain is still a strong international actor – even during the instability she faces during Brexit negotiations.

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Were the British Prime Minister to take this drastic action it is reasonable to expect that Vladimir Putin’s Russia would respond in equally robust terms. In our hyper-globalized world, it should come as no surprise that Russia has influence over socio-political conditions in Britain. The UK’s National Grid has been using Russian natural gas reserves to help keep up with demand for years; in 2015 nearly 10% of the UK’s consumption came from Russia. Although the winter is nearly over, and natural resources may not be important during the summer months, winter always returns, and there is the risk that next year Britain may struggle turning on the central heating.

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The question remains: are economic sanctions and restrictions worth bearing the socio-political ramifications of a stand-off? That remains to be decided. For now, the world waits to see both May and Putin’s next moves.

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What South Korea Learnt from Sochi’s Winter Games

Hosting the Olympic Games brings with it a recipe for prosperity – and opportunities for disaster.   past, trends have dictated that countries overspend and rarely see returns in the long term. South Korea has decided to take an innovative approach. They cut heavily on spending and infrastructure that usually lies derelict for years after the Games. Maybe they learnt something from recent events in Russia?

 

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The Sochi Olympic Games in 2014 cost Russia a staggering $51bn. During the run-up to the Games, it was made clear that Sochi was to be the most extravagant Olympics ever. The 40’000-mile torch run from Kaliningrad to Chukotka which passed through all 83 regions of the country set the tone for a month of excessive and unnecessary folly. $30bn of the money went into embezzlements to Putin’s close associates while the rest was pumped into ensuring that Russia was portrayed affluently on the world stage. The absence of fair competition in building, strict censorship and clan politics led to sharp increases in prices and low quality of work. Only weeks after the event, Sochi began to fall apart with deserted buildings, empty streets and inhabited almost exclusively by stray dogs. Russia’s taxpayers are footing the bill and seeing very little return.

 

South Korea has learnt from these mistakes. Pyeongchang cut costs by saying no to unnecessary infrastructure and have to build low-cost temporary stadiums in lieu of behemoths that would later sit unused and decay. The stadium cost just over $109m and is set to be used 4 times before demolition. Currently, their frugality is bringing Pyeongchang bad press as blankets were handed out during the opening ceremony as opposed to intense heating. However, this decision is symbolic of their plan to cut costs. Although (like all Olympic Games) South Korea will break their budget of $12.9bn it is still a fraction of what was spent in Russia.

 

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What are South Korea Gaining from the Winter Olympics?

The world’s eye is on Pyeongchang this February as they set the stage for the Winter Olympics. After winning the bid for the Games, South Korea is set to splash out large sums of money to attract positive attention to their country. There have already been huge political breakthroughs throughout the peninsula.

 

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Bidding for the Olympic Games is not an open auction – getting through the application process is not a “survival of the richest”. There is a myriad of factors that are considered when the panel votes for the next host – including infrastructure, financial support, and even human rights records. Amongst all the applicants, three stood out: South Korea, Germany, and France. France was deemed unsuitable almost unanimously receiving only six votes, Germany took in 25 votes and was the closest, but nowhere near close to the winners: South Korea who took home the gold with 63 votes.

 

Hosting the Games is a financial burden. What is South Korea looking to gain out of this? Firstly, we don’t yet know how much the Games will cost, but generally, countries will be expected to dish out no less than $5.2bn. Their profits are most likely going to be indirectly obtained through tourism and stock market attention in subsequent years. Although financial profits are likely – there are more important political and cultural changes that have already occurred.

 

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The Korean Peninsula has been divided since the 1950-1953 war. There was no post-war peace treaty signed, and South Korea boycotted the North in 1988. The Games have seen a diplomatic breakthrough with Kim-Yo-Jong visiting alongside her “army of beauties” – a group of women hand-picked for their good looks, talent, and loyalty to the regime. This is after Kim-Jung-un himself raised the prospect of North Korea’s attendance in his New Year’s speech.

 

It also gives South Korea a platform to show off their world-leading technology. Samsung, South Korea’s biggest company, will use this opportunity to expand their market share which will have positive ramifications for their domestic market.

 

DISCLAIMER: This message is provided for informational purposes and should not be construed as a solicitation or offer to buy or sell any securities. Past investment performance may not be indicative of future investment performance.