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Top investor warns of Russia stock bubble

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prominent emerging markets investor Jim Rogers said Russian equity markets were overvalued and could burst “sooner rather than later,” revealing the skeletons in the cupboard of its “outlaw capitalism.”

“I wouldn’t put a nickel of my own money in Russia, and I wouldn’t put a nickel of your money there either,” Rogers, a long-time commodities bull, told Reuters by telephone from New York on Wednesday.

“Everything about Russia is one big bubble, and it’s going to pop. It’s going to happen sooner rather than later,” said Rogers, who co-founded the Quantum Fund with George Soros in the 1970s and has focused on commodities since 1998.

“When that happens, people will look around and say, how did that happen? That’s when we’ll find out about all the skeletons in the cupboard.”

The fund manager said the Russian state was confiscating assets and company owners were cashing out via a series of initial public offerings in London.

The Kremlin has muscled its way into big deals with foreign companies under President Vladimir Putin and taken control of strategic industries including oil.

Late last year, after months of official pressure, Royal Dutch Shell RDSa.L and its Japanese partners agreed to cede control to Russian gas monopoly Gazprom GAZP.MM of the vast Sakhalin-2 natural gas project.

“Russia is a disaster,” Rogers said. “Everybody in Russia is busy stripping assets. If you ride across Russia, you are not going to see a lot of money being spent on railroads, pipelines or roads.”

“It’s outlaw capitalism.”

Russian stock prices surged 80 percent last year, driven by an economic boom now into its eighth year on the back of high oil prices and soaring consumer demand. But the RTS stock market is down about 7 percent in the year to date amid a global sell-off triggered by concerns over U.S. growth and inflation.

Rogers predicted Russian stocks would suffer huge losses when the bubble pops. Some stocks could go down by as much as 90 percent, others 40 percent, while some could disappear, he said.

Referring to a rash of Russian companies that have listed shares in London, Rogers said: “People don’t have a clue. They’re buying blind pools, and companies are saying ‘Just give us your money, we’re not going to tell you what we’ll do with it’.”

Investors last got their fingers burned in Russia after the August 1998 domestic debt default and rouble devaluation sent volatility through world markets, losing major banks billions of dollars.

But Rogers warned: “Things will be worse this time. 1998 was a stock market bubble; this time we have a huge housing and commodities market bubble.”

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