Everything is bigger in Texas

You’ve no doubt heard that everything’s bigger in Texas. That’s more than just a trite expression, and I’m not just saying that because Texas is home to U.S. Global Investors.

Want to know how big Texas really is? Let’s compare its economy with that of Russia, the world’s largest country by area. As you probably know, Russia’s been in the news a lot lately, so the timing of this comparison makes sense. The U.S. just levied fresh sanctions against the Eastern European country for its alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and this week President Donald Trump warned Russia that the U.S. military could soon strike its ally Syria in response to its use of chemical weapons.

The Russian ruble traded sharply down following the news, decoupling from Brent crude oil, the country’s number one export.

Russian ruble decoupled from Brent crude following US snactions
click to enlarge

But back to the comparison. Even though Russia has nearly five times as many residents as Texas, the Lone Star State's economy is more than $40 billion larger. Texans, therefore, enjoy a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of around $58,000, whereas Russians have one closer to $8,700.

Texas Is So Much More than Oil Country

The Russian Federation is the largest single producer of crude in the world, pumping out 10.95 million barrels per day (bpd) in January, according to the country’s energy minister. Texas is no slouch, though, as its output came close to 4 million bpd in January. That’s the most ever for a January since at least 1981. And from December 2017 to February 2018, its oil and gas industry accounted for nearly 30 percent of the state’s employment growth, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

But whereas Russia’s economy is highly dependent on exports of oil and petroleum products, the Texas economy is broadly diversified. The state ranks first in the U.S. for not only oil production but also wind energy. It has a robust agricultural sector, and it’s a leading hub for advanced technology and manufacturing, aeronautics, biotechnology and life sciences. Austin, the state capital, is steadily emerging as the most dynamic U.S. filmmaking city outside of Hollywood.

Texas exports

All of this has helped contribute to Texas being among the fastest growing states in the U.S. In 2017, it grew by more than 1,000 new residents per day.

Meanwhile, Russia’s population is slowly shrinking because of low birth rates and immigration. Its population peaked at 148 million in the early 1990s—right around when the Soviet Union fell—and by 2050, it’s estimated to sink to 111 million.

Can Russia Root Out Its Corruption?

One area where Russia trumps Texas is in corruption. I’ll admit, the Lone Star State faces a few problems of its own involving corruption, which leaders must address.

But Russia takes it to a whole new level. Last year, it ranked 135 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), released in February. Among Eastern European countries, only Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan ranked lower. Watchdog group Freedom House was similarly critical in its most recent analysis, giving the country an overall democracy score of 6.61 out of 7, with 7 being “least democratic.”

So notorious and widespread is Russia’s mafia that a number of movies have been made about it. One of the best among them is David Cronenberg’s excellent Eastern Promises (2007).

Having said all that, I believe it’s prudent for investors to underweight Russian stocks for the time being and overweight Western Europe. Because of U.S. sanctions, Americans have until May 7 to divest completely from a number of Russian names, including Rusal, En+ Group and GAZ (Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod), all of which saw serious outflows this past week. The MSCI Russia Index, which covers about 85 percent of Russian equities’ total market cap, plunged below its 200-day moving average, but yesterday it jumped more than 4 percent, its best one-day move in two years.