The New York Times:
He looked past Iran’s cratering economy, ignored the unraveling nuclear deal and tuned out the bellicose threats of war from President Trump. Maciej Wojtal was focused on a mundane yet crucial question: Where were Iran’s people going to buy their chocolate biscuits?
Iranians were being forced to economize, trading lunch at kebab restaurants for cheap pleasures like sugary snacks. Mr. Wojtal, who runs an investment fund devoted to Iranian stocks, identified a company that was poised to benefit: Gorji Biscuit was well positioned to raise prices, given that foreign competitors were forced to steer clear of Iran because of American sanctions that restricted commerce with the country. He bought its shares and watched their value multiply more than fivefold over the course of 2019.
“You have companies that actually benefit from sanctions,” Mr. Wojtal said. “Whoever had to compete with imported goods, he’s better off.”
Born and raised in Poland, Mr. Wojtal, 36, oversees the only foreign fund that is focused on buying stocks that trade on two exchanges in Tehran. This may seem a forbidding realm of finance, a marketplace overseen by an Iranian government under siege by sanctions. To avoid American-enforced prohibitions on using the dollar to transact with Iran, Mr. Wojtal’s fund is administered in the Netherlands and operates entirely in euros.
Maciej Wojtal runs the only foreign fund focused on buying stocks that trade on two exchanges in Tehran.Credit...Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times
A fund centered on Iranian equities may also seem frivolous. Who wants to buy into a country that is, by most indications, devastated by sanctions, cut off from the rest of the world economy and seething with public anger over rising prices and declining living standards?
Mr. Wojtal does. As he portrays it, obsession over sanctions misses the breadth of Iran’s economy. Sanctions have barred sales of Iranian oil, a major source of revenue for the Iranian government, though unknown volumes continue to be smuggled out of the country. Oil is such a large piece of the economy that a hit to that sector is guaranteed to produce a downturn.
But beneath that headline reality is an enticing emerging market — a nation of more than 80 million people, many highly educated, intent on transcending decades of isolation to integrate with the rest of the world. Iranians have forged fast-growing businesses in an array of industries, from petrochemicals and automotive to mining and agriculture.
These are the sorts of companies that trade on the Tehran stock market, now the bearer of an unlikely distinction: Last year, it was the best performing equity market on earth, more than doubling in dollar terms.
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