World

The Iranian economy is grim. The stock market is on the rise.

LONDON – He has overtaken the collapsed Iranian economy, ignored the collapsed nuclear deal, and removed the terrible threats of war from President Trump. Maciej Vogtal focused on an earthly but decisive question: Where would Iranian people have bought chocolate biscuits?

The Iranians were forced into the economy, and lunch was traded in kebab restaurants for cheap pleasures like sugary snacks. Mr. Vogtal, who manages an investment fund earmarked for Iranian stocks, has identified a company preparing to take advantage of it: Gorji Biscuit was in a good position to raise prices, given that foreign competitors were forced to move away from Iran due to the U.S. sanctions that restricted trade with the country bought his shares and saw their value multiply More than five times during 2019.

“You have companies that actually benefit from sanctions,” said Mr. Vogtal. “Whoever has to compete with the imported goods is in a better position.”

Born and raised in Poland, Mr. Vogtal, 36, is the only foreign fund focused on buying shares traded on the two exchange in Tehran. This may appear to be a prohibited financial field, a market that is being overseen by an Iranian government under siege. To avoid the US embargo on using the dollar to deal with Iran, Mr. Vogtal’s fund is managed in the Netherlands and operates entirely in euros.

The fund that focuses on Iranian stocks may seem trivial. Who wants to buy in a country that, according to most indicators, suffers from the effects of sanctions, isolated from the rest of the global economy and angry with public opinion from high prices and low living standards?

Mr. Vogtal does. In depicting this, the obsession with sanctions mistakes the expansion of Iran’s economy. The sanctions have blocked sales of Iranian oil, a major source of revenue for the Iranian government, despite the continued smuggling of unknown quantities from the country. Oil is a large part of the economy, ensuring that this sector succeeds in declining.

But beneath this key reality, there is an attractive emerging market – a nation of over 80 million people, many of whom are highly educated, intent on overcoming decades of isolation to integrate with the rest of the world. The Iranians have set up fast-growing companies in a range of industries, from petrochemicals and automobiles to mining and agriculture.

These are the types of companies trading on the Tehran stock market, which are now the bearers of an unlikely franchise: Last year, the best performing stock market on earth was more than a dollar weak.

Iranian stocks are counterproductive from the country’s position as an international pariah. With no foreign investment flowing into the country, and with the rapidly shrinking macroeconomics, stocks were stuck in low values. Even after rising last year, many companies’ shares still look cheap when compared to their profits.

It should be noted that the title of the best performing stock market in the world tends to be acquired by countries near the disastrous proximity to the disaster, where even initial shifts towards normal life can significantly change the company’s wealth. In 2018, the IBC Caracas Stock Exchange in Venezuela made the best returns in the world, she said countryeconomy.com. Last year, the list of contestants included Athena.

However, the doubling of share prices in Tehran speaks of the Iranian companies’ trick in evading the sting of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, while in many cases it specifically profits for it.

“It is an important measure of confidence in the private sector,” said Esfandiar Batmanlidge, publisher of the stock exchange and bazaar, a website of news and analysis in London focusing on the Iranian economy and the business world. “It shows you that there is a lot of wealth in Iran.”

The Iranian economy is shrinking at an annual rate of 9.5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. The protests strangled Iranian cities in November after high fuel prices. The demonstrations erupted again last month, amid anger over the government’s cover-up of its guilt in shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane.

Some say that the stock market is a deviation in the story of the conflict, and it is the result of the Iranian leadership urging people to assign their savings with shares at a time of minimal alternatives.

“I fear that this will not end well,” said Adnan Mazari, a former deputy director of the International Monetary Fund and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “This thing becomes a bubble.”

In his narration, Mr. Vogtal reveals stories that challenge traditional opinions about Iran. One recent day, he went snowboarding in a resort on the top of a mountain later built by the ousted Shah of Iran in the 1960s.

“It is very surprising,” he said by phone from Iran. “This will be the main destination for skiing and snowboarding in the Middle East and Central Asia.”

Mr. Wojtal, a lover who is not apologetic in summary, is not betraying any intense tightening of investment in a country run by a government. Imprisoned political opponents, An authoritarian government in Syria, nurturing a proxy, supports a brutal war in Yemen.

“We just buy and sell stocks,” he said.

It shakes the last frontiers of global capitalism – Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea. He said Iran is bigger and more promising.

In Poland in the 1980s, when the country removed the chains of communism, his father ran one of the first world-class restaurants in Warsaw.

Mr. Vogtal’s career began in banking – first as a stock researcher at Citigroup in Warsaw and later as a trader focusing on stocks and derivatives at JPMorgan Chase in London. He worked for a hedge fund, then returned to Poland to manage an investment fund.

The reason for his interest in Iran was the nuclear deal brokered by President Barack Obama in 2015. Iran has promised to restrict its plans to develop nuclear weapons while they are submitted to international inspections in exchange for alleviating years of tougher sanctions.

With the expected increase in international investment, Mr. Vogtal went to Tehran to take a look. He found the stock market that had been operating for more than two decades. Its swap includes about 600 companies, including daily food manufacturers such as food and cleaning products.

Many companies have reported revenue growth of 30 and 40 percent annually, but their share prices have not reflected that. The market was full of bargains.

“He had the lowest ratings in the world,” he said.

Mr. Maciej started his fund, “Amtelon Capital” – located in Amsterdam, Tehran, London – in July 2017, where he stored it with money from friends and relatives. It works outside a glass room inside the WeWork space in central London. He travels every month to Iran, where he has another office.

Among his first purchases was the glass producer. Thanks to the abundant energy and seemingly endless supply of sand – the main raw material – Iran has become the best place on Earth to make glass. He heard stories about Iranian producers transporting glass bottles through Turkey and Italy, and they are still lowering the price of competing products sold there. He acquired a stake in a company that manufactured glass bottles for the pharmaceutical industry and was exporting it across Europe.

He bought shares in a software production company that manufactures inventory management systems for Iranian companies, replacing the raw spreadsheets that many were using. Bought in the Iranian copper mine.

Then, in May 2018, President Trump canceled U.S. participation in the Iranian nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions. Mr. Vogtal was forced to sell his largest property, a company that monopolized the sale of water and natural gas in southwestern Iran. She appeared in the sanctions list.

Ordinary Iranians rushed to exchange the local currency, the riyal, into dollars, pushing its value nearly 70 percent in 2018.

For Iranian exporters, the weak currency was good news. They used the riyal to pay the salaries of their workers and buy the materials, but they earned dollars from their sales. Its profits increased. So did their stock prices.

Mr. Vogtal bought stakes in petrochemical companies that export urea, an ingredient in agricultural fertilizers and methanol, which is used in fuels and antifreeze. Bought in companies that mining zinc and iron ore. They sold their goods in dollars to local steel producers.

After losing 20 percent in 2018, Mr. Vogtal’s portfolio rose by 170 percent last year.

Mr. Vogtal bought shares in an Iranian company that manufactures toothpaste and soap. He took a stake in the dishwasher manufacturing company. Both have previously competed against Chinese brands. Its earnings grew fourfold.

His most successful bet was Gorji Biscuit. Not only did the Iranians eat their snacks, the company exported a quarter of its products to Iraq, where it gets the dollar.

About nine million euros (about $ 10 million) that he now manages come from 20 wealthy people from Britain, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium and Poland. He said he aims to increase funding 10 times “as quickly as possible.”

Achieving this goal requires a lot of preaching about Iran.

It may also require constant modification of conditions beyond his control.

“The stakes are clear,” he said. “It is geopolitics.”

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