Russia Returns to Life, and Fund Doubles

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- John Connor, manager of the Third Millennium Russia Fund ( TMRCX), says the case is still strong for the Eastern European country, which has had wild swings in the past two years. A rise in commodity prices and a growing middle class is keeping Russian stocks attractive, he says.

After losing almost three-quarters of its value in 2008, the mutual fund roared back to life last year, returning 107%.

Welcome to's Fund Manager Five Spot, where America's top mutual fund managers give their best stock picks and views in five questions.

Is the rebound in Russian stocks for real?

Connor: Yes. The two themes are the boom in consumer spending and the growing middle class. This is based on the commodity-export economy, things like oil and gas and fertilizer and steel. That's growing very strong, especially in terms of trading with China and East Asia.

What is your favorite Russian commodity stock?

Connor: TNK-BP ( BP), a joint venture between the local group and British Petroleum. It pays an incredible dividend, and it's one of the best-managed companies. It's my favorite oil stock at this time. The one slightly negative thing about the company is that they need to do more for the public shareholder, but they said they will, so that's even more of a reason to be positive on the company.

As the Russian middle class grows, what is your favorite consumer-related stock?

Connor: X5 Retail Group is a retailer that makes Wal-Mart ( WMT) look like a corner store. The Russian middle class is all over that company. The stores are expanding geographically. Revenues have been growing dramatically, so that's been a great stock for the consumer boom.

What is Russia's relationship with China?

Connor: The two nations are growing closer. Gazprom is going to be exporting more gas to China in 20 years than they do overall right now. And the Chinese are actually replacing dirty generating companies and opening hearth steel companies, so they are taking great quantities of Russian steel as well.

Are worries over Russia's politics still an issue for investors?

Connor: Russia tends toward sclerosis. They are not as open as they should be. However, it is a free-market democracy, even if the right wing and left wing in America tends to overlook it.

As for Russia's neighbors to the west, the European Union is a mutual thieving society, where the southern rim steals from the rich countries by having impermissibly high deficits. I am sure the Russians are looking at that right now and are thankful they are not part of it.
Before joining, Gregg Greenberg was a writer and segment producer for CNBC's Closing Bell. He previously worked at FleetBoston and Lehman Brothers in their Private Client Services divisions, covering high net-worth individuals and midsize hedge funds. Greenberg attended New York University's School of Business and Economic Reporting. He also has an M.B.A. from Cornell University's Johnson School of Business, and a B.A. in history from Amherst College.

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