Ditching Russian assets big problem for US fund investors
NEW YORK, March 1 (Reuters) – U.S. investors holding Russian assets are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult position on working out how to ditch them.
The United States, Britain, Europe and Canada announced new sanctions on Saturday – including blocking certain banks’ access to the SWIFT international payment system – following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That has sent a wave of investors announcing they are cutting positions in Russia.
But investors trying to sell their Russian assets are being left with a problem: How to do it?
Russia’s central bank retaliated by banning Russian brokers from selling securities held by foreigners, although it did not specify assets for which the ban applies. Compounding that, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on Tuesday the country will temporarily stop foreign investors from selling Russian assets to ensure they make a considered decision.
Moscow’s move to impose capital controls means that billions of dollars worth of securities held by foreigners in Russia are at risk of being trapped.
“It’s a pickle,” said Brett Johnson, partner at Snell & Wilmer. “If I was an investor, I would be really concerned by what the Russian government is doing right now. I would be very, very concerned about that investment and how it’s going to play out over the long term.”
Some U.S. investors had been able to gain access to the Russian market by purchasing American Depositary Receipts (ADRs), which are certificated issues by U.S. banks that represent shares in foreign companies for trading on U.S. stock exchanges, or buying on over-the-counter exchanges. But Nasdaq Inc (NDAQ.O) and Intercontinental Exchange Inc’s (ICE.N) NYSE have temporarily halted trading in the stocks of Russia-based companies listed on their exchanges due to regulatory concerns, people familiar with the matter said.
“It’s a real problem for investors to be able to somehow unwind their exposures,” said Andrew Karolyi, a professor of finance at Cornell University, who said that Russia in general was a very difficult market to access for global investors, which is why using American depository receipts had been an important vehicle.
Karolyi said the way to offload those securities “would be to work through the depository banks that have issued these receipts,” pointing to intermediaries like JPMorgan (JPM.N), Bank of New York Mellon (BK.N) and Citigroup (C.N), to cancel the receipts toward owning the ordinary shares that underlie them. JPM did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Citi did not immediately provide a comment, and BNY declined comment.
“Being able to actually move those immobilized ordinary shares is just really, really difficult,” Karolyi said.
In the over-the-counter markets, ADRs of Sberbank were still trading, according to OTC Markets Group, which showed that more than 20 million of the sanctioned Russian bank’s ADR shares had been traded by 2 p.m. EST, versus a 30-day average of just under 3 million shares.