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Investors ignoring geopolitical risks to target undervalued Russian equities -analysts

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A woman picks up an order at the pick-up point of the Ozon online retailer in Moscow, Russia March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

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MOSCOW, March 15 (Reuters) - Russian companies are cashing in on a global equity boom, leveraging growth potential and low valuations as investors largely ignore geopolitical risks and the risk of further sanctions on Moscow, analysts and bankers said.

Russian gold miner GV Gold on Monday became the latest local company to announce plans for an initial public offering (IPO), following e-commerce firm Ozon's (OZON.O) Nasdaq listing in November and retailer Fix Price's in London in March, when M.Video (MVID.MM) also made a secondary public offering (SPO).

"There is an understanding that you need to look to emerging markets for returns and Russia, on average, is cheaper than many others," a senior banker working on Russian deals said. "And there is a feeling that political tensions are easing, markets do not expect major sanctions."

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Western nations have imposed sanctions on individuals over the poisoning and imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, but have stopped short of targeting sovereign debt, which would be more damaging for Russia's economy.

And although the rouble has come under pressure, stock markets have largely shrugged the move off, with the benchmark MOEX index soaring to a record high of 3,596 points on Monday.

Slava Smolyaninov, chief strategist at BCS Global Markets says this is evidence of the two different narratives - geopolitical risks and investor money - not talking to each other much.

"Money talks and with that in mind, follow the flows, see what investors are doing. Politics and other things, up to a certain point, can be quite detached from the stock market and financial market realities," he said.

The Kremlin says it has seen no evidence Navalny was poisoned.

Based on the price-to-earnings ratio, Russian stocks' discount to their emerging and developed market peers has widened from 2020 levels this year, returning to the historical average of around 50%, Gazprombank strategist Ilya Frolov said.

"Interestingly, this valuation discount persists despite the changing market structure. This may be a result of the geopolitical premium," he added.

Meanwhile, Stanislav Yudin, equities analyst at ITI Capital says investors are eyeing growth and returns, despite volatility in the price of oil, Russia's major export, and the risk of sanctions.

"In some cases Russian stocks are in a position to deserve a premium to their peers given superior growth and profitability profiles," Yudin said.

Gazprombank's Frolov said the retail, telecoms, utilities and metals and mining sectors are undervalued. Others say that companies developing IT are also on investors' radar.

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Reporting by Alexander Marrow; additional reporting by Olga Popova Editing by Katya Golubkova, Kirsten Donovan

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