Chevron, Exxon Among U.S. Companies Vulnerable to Ukraine Unrest

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Large U.S. agriculture companies, energy infrastructure exporters and fast-food giants are among those that could suffer if the situation in Ukraine deteriorates further.

That's the assessment from fund managers and strategists, who point to a full scale Russian military occupation of Ukraine as the biggest risk to markets.

Global markets were a sea of red on Monday, with key European indices shedding more than 2% after Russia seized border posts and pushed to expand its forces in Ukraine's Crimea region.

Despite the alarm, UBS' head of global emerging markets equity strategy, Geoff Dennis, said the political turmoil in Egypt of early 2011 was far more significant for global markets.

"Egypt is owned by foreign investors and is an emerging market," he said in a phone interview. "There was potential for it to stir the Israel-Palestine conflict and it caused a spike in oil prices."

By comparison, Ukraine is a major agriculture producer but doesn't pose the same geopolitical risk to global markets. It is classified as a frontier market, which means it is less developed than so-called emerging markets with less input from offshore investors.

Dennis said the worst-case scenario for the region would involve military confrontation, in which Russia moved to restore ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych or place another Soviet-backed leader in power.

A potential default by Ukraine on its debt could also see a ripple effect through the European banking system, the UBS strategist warned. Russian banks are seen as those most exposed to the region, while two large Austrian banks -- Raiffeisen International and Bank Austria -- are active in Ukraine. "If loans aren't repaid in the Ukraine, western banks there could be forced to liquidate investments elsewhere," Dennis said, suggesting overall exposure of western European banks was probably contained.

Several U.S. companies are vulnerable amid the conflict. The Ukraine's agricultural sector is seen as the most exposed to offshore investment and fund managers said companies that export parts for agricultural machinery such as Deere (DE) would likely see softness. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is another major player in agriculture trade along with the privately held Cargill, while the Ukraine was seen to present opportunity for genetic crop developer Monsanto (MON).

"The agricultural machinery sector raised great expectations for U.S. exports and investment in the Ukraine before the crisis," Wilmington Trust's Clem Miller said in a phone interview.

He also pointed to moves by U.S. energy companies to export equipment as Ukraine replaces Soviet-era infrastructure.

The region has a quarter of the world's natural gas reserves, with the conflict pushing Chevron  (CVX) to bolster security for its staff in Ukraine's shale fields. Other companies with exposure include Siemens (SI) -- which had plans to build rail infrastructure in the region -- while Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) and Exxon Mobil (XOM) drill for oil and gas in Russia.

Global U.S. companies that could suffer lower sales amid the conflict also include PepsiCo (PEP) and McDonald's (MCD), with the burger outlet operating in both the Ukraine and Russia.

Finally, medical diagnostics present a prospective market for U.S. exporters as Ukraine replaces antiquated equipment, Miller said. In some areas, it is still dealing with ramifications from Chernobyl, given its exposure to the 1986 nuclear disaster. This would have represented a prospective market for companies such as Medtronic (MDT), GE Medical Systems, Pfizer (PFE), Roche and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Overall, Dennis of UBS noted that the impact of Ukraine on U.S. investors was relatively small. "But there is the risk that it deteriorates badly in the near term," he warned.

--- Written by Jane Searle In New York

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