Even before the U.S. presidential election raised hopes of warmer ties with the Kremlin, some big Western companies were betting Russia's economy will soon come out of the deep freeze.
Big retailers like Sweden's Ikea Group and France's Leroy Merlin SA have begun pumping billions of dollars in new stores and factories, counting on Russia's consumers to start emerging from hibernation after two years of recession.
Ikea is putting $1.6 billion into new stores over the next five years or so. Leroy Merlin in September announced a 2-billion-euro plan to more than double the number of outlets in Russia over the same period. Pfizer Inc. is building a new drug factory, while Mars Inc. is expanding plants for chewing gum and pet food.
"This is the moment for investment," said Walter Kadnar, country head for Ikea, which last launched a new store in Russia five years ago but this fall opened a $60 million furniture factory near St. Petersburg and acquired land for a third Mega mall near the city. "I strongly believe in the potential of the Russian market long-term." Situation 'Changing'
Foreign investment all but ground to a halt as the country sunk into recession and conflict with the West over the last two years. Companies including General Motors Co. slashed local operations. For many of those who stayed, now is the time to reopen their wallets to get a jump on rivals. The ruble's plunge, though it decimated the value of local earnings in dollars and euros, has driven production costs in Russia down sharply. By some estimates
, they're now lower than those in China.
"The last 2-3 years have been a disaster," said Frank Schauff, head of the Association of European Businesses in Moscow. "Now, the situation is changing as the ruble exchange rate has stabilized and the Russian economy is forecast to return to growth soon."
The government said its annual meeting of foreign investors in September drew the most top executives in a decade. Foreign direct investment surged to $8.3 billion in the first nine months of this year, more than the $5.9 billion reported for all of 2015, according to central bank data.