The rouble plunged the most since May and Russian borrowing costs jumped after Donald Trump signed an executive order authorising a second round of US sanctions as punishment for a 2018 nerve-agent attack in the UK.
The executive order, released by the White House late Thursday, includes curbs to international financing and US bank loans, though it wasn’t immediately clear when they could take effect or how sweeping they’d be.
The second round of sanctions is being implemented because the Kremlin didn’t provide assurances required under US law over the attack on a former Russian spy, a senior administration official said on Friday. The Kremlin denies any role in the poisoning.
Adding to the shock for investors was Russia’s position as one of the most popular trades in emerging markets in recent months due to its high real yields. Foreigners now own about a third of the nation’s local-currency debt market, the highest level in more than a year.
“It’s partially a US internal political question how it plays out and we investors have little insight into it,” said Viktor Szabo, who invests in Russia as a money manager at Aberdeen Asset Management in London. “Some profit-taking is warranted” given heavy positioning in Russian assets, he said.
The rouble dropped 1.2% to 65.1 versus the dollar and 10-year rouble bond yields jumped 15 basis points to 7.5%. Ivan Tchakarov, an economist at Citigroup Inc in Moscow, said Russia’s yields could jump as much as 30 basis points more.
US President’s Donald Trump’s latest salvo in the trade war with China and the Federal Reserve’s hawkish rate cut have also weighed on appetite for emerging markets.
The move has been expected since last year. A State Department announcement in September that the financial restrictions could be implemented in November exacerbated a drop in the rouble. Since then, the publication of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference has removed some of the threat of new sanctions.
“The problem is that we don’t know what these sanctions actually involve,” said Alexey Tverdohleb, a trader at Bank Zenit in Moscow. “The current level of yields doesn’t price in all of the risks.”
The executive order grants Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin the authority to prevent international financial institutions from extending loans to Russia, according to Alan Kartashkin, a Managing Partner at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton in Moscow.
The Treasury could also be able to prohibit US banks from making loans or providing credit to the Russian government, but this will be subject to limited exceptions, he said.
“The Secretary of the Treasury can issue a directive or regulations that will clarify which types of loans will be prohibited, which could potentially include all sovereign debt, including Eurobonds and domestic OFZ bonds,” according to Kartashkin.
Any restrictions might also apply to state-owned enterprises and entities in which the government holds a significant stake, he said. “Market participants will be waiting for official statements from US Treasury on this issue, which I would expect to be promulgated soon.”
This is presumably the precursor to an actual set of actions today by Treasury and State to implement the second round of CBW sanctions on Russia. This does nothing by itself other than give Treasury full licensing authority, which I’d expect it to use.
The announcement of the new restrictions came just a day after Trump called his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, offering American assistance in fighting wildfires in Siberia. The Kremlin said the call was a signal that “in the future, it will be possible to restore full-format relations between the two countries.”
Neither side revealed whether the presidents discussed the sanctions during the call, however.