One of the Biggest Emerging-Market Bulls Turns on Russia

(Bloomberg) -- Long-time Russia investor Ashmore Group Plc is joining the bears.

The emerging-market specialist with $76 billion has grown more pessimistic on Russian assets because of their indefinite exposure to U.S. sanctions. That’s driving the money manager to gradually trim its holdings in a capitulation atypical for a firm that braved sell-offs in previous years.

U.S. sanctions on Russia amount to a “slow-moving train wreck” for investors and things will only get worse as the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller draws to a close, Ashmore’s head of research Jan Dehn said in an interview. Additional “undisclosed, indiscriminate sanctions” are possible if Mueller’s probe implicates Russia in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election, hitting the country’s assets even harder, Dehn said.

One of the Biggest Emerging-Market Bulls Turns on Russia

Such a gloomy outlook from an emerging-market investor well-known for taking risks on distressed markets such as Venezuela adds to the pain for Russian policy makers already trying to stem an outflow of investment. Foreigners have pulled about 500 billion rubles ($7.6 billion) from local bonds since sanctions were imposed on Russian companies and individuals in April.

Since then the yield on Russian 10-year ruble government bonds has risen to about 8.7 percent from around 7.2 percent in March.

U.S. Congress may pass measures early next year related to Russia meddling in the U.S. elections, after delaying discussions in November. In their harshest form, the measures under discussion could block U.S. investors from buying new sovereign debt and aim to shut Russia’s biggest banks out of the global financial system.

Dehn says the government debt sanctions are already priced in to Russia’s local-currency bond market, but “the trend is for more sanctions rather than fewer.”

Ashmore is still active eurobonds, local debt and corporate bonds and will keep its finger in, despite the reduction of holdings.

“In general, we are always in these markets unless we expect default or another major calamity, but we trade the positions every day,” Dehn said.

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