Wall Street returns to Russian bond trading months after Moscow sanctions

Several Wall Street banks have started to offer to facilitate trades in Russian debt, allowing investors to get rid of assets viewed as toxic in the West, according to bank documents seen by Reuters.

In June, the Treasury Department banned U.S. investors from buying any Russian security as part of economic sanctions levied against Moscow for its war on Ukraine. This ban prompted most U.S. and European banks to pull back from the market.

After the Treasury released guidelines in July allowing U.S. holders to wind down their positions, the largest Wall Street banks have returned to the market for Russian government and corporate bonds.

Several Wall Street banks have started to offer to facilitate trades in Russian debt, allowing investors to get rid of assets viewed as toxic in the West. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File / AP Newsroom)

The banks now in the market include JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG, Barclays and Jefferies Financial Group Inc.

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Around $40 billion of Russian sovereign bonds were outstanding prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, roughly half of which was held by foreign funds. A number of investors were stuck with Russian assets, as their value took a nose dive, buyers disappeared and sanctions increased the difficulty of trading.

In June, the Treasury Department banned U.S. investors from buying any Russian security as part of economic sanctions levied against Moscow for its war on Ukraine.  (iStock / iStock)

Some U.S. lawmakers asked JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in May for information about trades in Russian debt, arguing that they could undermine sanctions. And in June, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control prohibited U.S. money managers from purchasing any Russian debt or stocks in secondary markets, leading firms to pull back.

The Treasury Department offered additional guidance in July to help settle default insurance payments on Russian bonds. The department also explained that banks could facilitate, clear and settle transactions of Russian securities if it helped U.S. holders wind down their positions.

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The banks now in the market include JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG, Barclays and Jefferies Financial Group Inc. (iStock)

Meanwhile, European regulators have also scaled back restrictions to allow investors to put Russian assets into so-called side pockets, although this is permitted on a case-by-case basis.

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Some firms have offered to trade Russian sovereign and corporate bonds, and some have proposed facilitating trades in bonds denominated in both roubles and U.S. dollars. However, they are also insisting on additional paperwork from clients and are opposed to taking on any risk.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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