Investors cut Russia exposure amid Ukraine crisis; banks slide

Carolyn Cohn and Lawrence White, Reuters

Posted at Mar 01 2022 09:10 PM

A damaged Ukrainian armored vehicle in the aftermath of an overnight shelling at the Ukrainian checkpoint in Brovary near Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine, March 1, 2022. Sergey Dolzhenko, EPA-EFE
A damaged Ukrainian armored vehicle in the aftermath of an overnight shelling at the Ukrainian checkpoint in Brovary near Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine, March 1, 2022. Sergey Dolzhenko, EPA-EFE

SERGEY DOLZHENKO

LONDON - Major investors, including hedge fund Man Group and British asset manager abrdn, said on Tuesday they were cutting their positions in Russia in the wake of the country's invasion of Ukraine.

Their pronouncements came as ripple effects of sanctions on Russia were making themselves felt, with Visa Inc and Mastercard Inc blocking multiple Russian financial institutions from their networks. 

Elsewhere, Germany's market regulator BaFin said that it was closely monitoring the European arm of Russia's VTB Bank, which was no longer accepting new clients. 

Meanwhile, shares in some European banks remained under pressure after heavy declines on Monday because of lenders' exposure to Russia. The sector remained volatile as Moscow started day six of its invasion. 

Asset manager abrdn has around two billion pounds of client money invested in Russia and Belarus and has been cutting its positions, Chief Executive Stephen Bird said. 

"We will not invest in Russia and Belarus for the foreseeable future," Bird said.

Man Group cut its investments in Russia in recent weeks and now has 'negligible' exposure to Russia and Ukraine across its portfolio, its Chief Financial Officer Antoine Forterre told Reuters on Tuesday. 

The London-based fund first cut exposure to the region in its discretionary emerging markets fund in December, he said, before the hedge fund's other strategies began reducing risk in the last two weeks.

Shares of Austria's Raiffeisen Bank International were down 4.9 percent in late morning, after sliding 14 percent on Monday. Shares of Italy's UniCredit fell 0.9 percent, after Monday's 9.5 percent fall.

The European Central Bank has put banks with close ties to Russia, such as Raiffeisen and the European arm of VTB, under close observation following sweeping financial sanctions by the West that have already pushed one Russian lender over the edge, two sources told Reuters. 

Tuesday's share price swings and investor comments came as Russia faced increasing isolation over its invasion of Ukraine, with resistance on the ground denying President Vladimir Putin decisive early gains despite heavy shelling and a huge military convoy outside Kyiv. 

Shares of leading banks fell with the European banking sector down 1.9 percent, after a 4.5 percent fall on Monday.

In recent days, the United States, Britain, Europe and Canada announced a raft of new sanctions - including blocking certain Russian lenders' access to the SWIFT international payment system. 

In response, the London Stock Exchange said on Tuesday it would stop trading in two global depository receipts (GDRs) for VTB Bank after Britain's financial regulator suspended them in response to sanctions. 

India's top lender will not process any transactions involving Russian entities subject to international sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, according to a letter seen by Reuters and people familiar with the matter. 

Amid wild swings in bank shares, bankers have sought to reassure investors and the public, saying they are well capitalized and that their footprints in Russia are relatively small.

Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Christian Sewing told the Bild newspaper that it would be wrong to assume a quick resolution to the crisis in Ukraine following the exclusion of Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system.

"That would be the wrong expectation," Sewing said.

(Additional reporting by Frank Siebelt, Huw Jones and Madeline Chambers; Writing by Tom Sims; Editing by Miranda Murray, Edmund Blair and Susan Fenton)

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