Russia’s Singeing Sanctions Stretch
Russian stocks continued outlier double-digit losses despite a pickup in Q2 GDP growth to the 4 percent range as US President Trump reluctantly signed new punitive measures against individuals, state banks and energy companies passed overwhelmingly in Congress, which also consider extending post-Crimea and Ukraine invasion punishment to sovereign debt investment. The Treasury Department will study the issue and report back early next year, but the timetable could be accelerated on evidence of Moscow’s further military forays and 2016 presidential election tampering. President Putin decried the action after holding cordial meetings with the Trump team at the recent G-20 summit, and retaliated with expulsion of half the American Embassy staff in the capital. The fighting could literally escalate as Washington reportedly may begin funneling arms to Kiev to repel Eastern rebels who have declared a breakaway Donbas Republic. The push could coincide with more erratic performance under the IMF program, as defense spending has undermined original fiscal discipline commitments despite recession escape and currency stability helping to fuel a 15 percent MSCI frontier index gain through July. Russian industrial output was up 5 percent in June, but retail sales are still flat with lackluster consumer sentiment, prompting retail giant Sberbank to slash mortgage rates to lift confidence. FDI had recovered last year to $13 billion and US banks and companies were again exploring ventures, but momentum may be derailed with the fresh sanctions provisions targeting cyber-security, infrastructure project and “corrupt” privatization broadly. The last category has made headlines with the $3 billion asset stripping lawsuit filed by oil behemoth Rosneft, after taking over rival Bashneft formerly owned by industry conglomerate Systema, after its chief executive fell out of Kremlin favor and was placed under house arrest. The clash underscored perennial corporate governance dysfunction structurally discounting the market P/E ratio to single digits and Rosneft’s high economic profile as it also negotiates additional concessions for Venezuela oil fields after accumulating a 49 percent position in US chain Citgo for collateral in its main joint venture.
As the country skirts possible bond default under pariah status with President Maduro’s installation of a replacement assembly, Russian lenders may be ready to offer backstops, but the sector has been blighted with hundreds of closures ordered by the central bank since 2013. The latest is 30th ranking Yugra, which “manipulated” and falsified accounts to fool depositors and regulators. The bottleneck has occurred against the backdrop of notable strides otherwise in the World Bank’s Doing Business indicators, where Russia and neighbors have led all regions since 2010 according to a companion report. At the same time as the reinforced Washington estrangement, relations with Turkey have turned cozier after a brief trade boycott for plane destruction in Syria ended. The stock market there in contrast is up 35 percent this year on tax, spending and credit stimulus supporting 5 percent growth on the anniversary of 2016’s doomed coup. President Erdogan recently met again with his Russian counterpart, who unlike officials in Brussels has refrained from criticizing mass detentions and firings of government and media workers accused of anti-regime sympathy. He has also seized company stakes and pooled them into a $200 billion sovereign wealth fund for infrastructure outlays, while exhorting private banks to relax their grip from pre-coup torn balance sheets.