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US warns money managers of more Russia sanctions

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Obama administration told asset managers last week that it was planning additional sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. Officials from the Treasury Department and the National Security Council met in Washington with mutual-fund and hedge-fund managers, according to a person who attended. 


Their comments sent a message that more sanctions are on the way and that investors, if they were concerned about the impact, should manage that risk, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions weren’t public. 



The meeting, convened a week before talks with Russia in Geneva that ended yesterday, left managers grappling with the question of whether the government intended to follow through, or was trying to trigger asset sales through the threat of sanctions, said the person. Former administration officials have said forcing Russia out of global financial markets is the strongest tool President Barack Obama has at his disposal in trying to defuse the crisis between Russia and Ukraine.


“A lot of firms on the buy side have cut their exposure to Russia,” Jack Deino, the head of emerging-market debt at Atlanta-based Invesco Ltd., said in an interview, talking about the industry in general. Staff of the National Security Council, which is the president’s main forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters, has reached out to businesses to provide information on sanctions against Russia, said Laura Lucas Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the council.



Ukraine talks
“As Russia continues to destabilise Ukraine, we are prepared to sanction additional individuals and entities, and we’ve made clear that we’d be prepared to target certain sectors of the Russian economy if we see a significant escalation including direct Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine,” she said. “We are co-ordinating our actions closely with our partners in Europe and the G7.”


The four-way talks on the crisis in Ukraine ended with an accord, after Russian President Vladimir Putin said he hopes he won’t have to send in troops. Stocks in Russia and Asia rose. US Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia, which the US and its European allies accuse of stoking the conflict, must start implementing the deal within days or face additional sanctions.



Russian risk
“If we’re not able to see progress on the immediate efforts, to be able to implement the principles of this agreement this weekend, then we will have no choice but to impose further costs on Russia,” Kerry said at a press conference.


Investors had been selling Russian securities, causing its currency to fall 7.6 per cent against the dollar this year. The country’s reaction to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in February—annexing the Crimea region and amassing troops by the Ukraine border—has increased the perception of risk attached to investing in Russian sovereign debt.


The cost to protect US$10 million of debt through the credit default swap market has risen to US$248,000 annually for five years from US$166,000 at the end of last year, according to data provider CMA, a unit of McGraw Hill Financial Inc. 



An administration official warned last week that if the talks fail, the US is ready to take further steps, targeting people in the Russian president’s inner circle and entities they oversee. Industry-specific sanctions are also an option, according to the official, who spoke about private talks on condition of anonymity.



‘Biggest weapon’
“The biggest weapon in terms of sanctions would be similar sanctions to what we did in Iran and basically try to exclude Russia from international financial markets,” said William Pomeranz, deputy director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. 


The meeting in Washington last week included several mutual-fund companies with large bond units, according to the person. Separately, the US Securities and Exchange Commission has been asking US asset managers about their investments in Russian securities, said the person.





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