Russia Debt Default Could See the US Seize the Country’s Assets

The impending Russian debt default is likely to be one of the most difficult in history to resolve, and could even lead the US to permanently seize assets from the country’s central bank, according to a report from the consultancy Oxford Economics.

Russia is facing its first default on its foreign-currency debt since the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution in 1918.

The US Treasury earlier this month blocked Russia from paying $650 million due on two bonds using funds held at American banks. Russia has instead tried to pay in rubles, but credit ratings agencies have said this would constitute a default.

Russia has a 30-day grace period from April 4 in which to pay in dollars. But thoughts are now turning to the next steps, and how bondholders might recoup their money.

Tatiana Orlova, lead emerging markets economist at Oxford Economics, said investors face a “very long and difficult” legal road. “Russia’s debt crisis will be among the most difficult in history to resolve, since the default has its roots in politics rather than finance,” she wrote in a report that was sent to clients Thursday.

One of the key problems is that political and financial relations between Russia and the West have completely broken down. That makes the usual default process, whereby bondholders and the government enter negotiations and thrash out a deal, seem unlikely to happen.

Orlova said another problem for bondholders is that Ukraine may lay a claim to Russian assets in international courts to pay for the rebuilding of the country. In that case, investors would have to weigh up whether they want to compete with the Ukrainian government for Russian assets.

The economist said the US might eventually end up seizing the money from the Russian central bank’s foreign currency reserves. Western governments have already frozen the bulk of the roughly $600 billion stockpile. Joe Biden earlier this year ordered that half of Afghanistan’s central bank reserves, which were also frozen, be made available as possible compensation for victims of 9/11 and to fund humanitarian support in the country.

“The US administration could possibly find a stronger moral cause for splitting the US-denominated portion of Russia’s FX reserves between Ukraine and bondholders,” Orlova said. Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has said the government has fulfilled its obligations by paying in rubles. He said last week Western governments are forcing Russia into a default and threatened to take legal action.

It’s not just holders of Russian sovereign debt who may have to take to the courts to try to get their money. Orlova’s report said there is likely to be an “avalanche” of Russian corporate debt defaults, given that the US is taking a hard line and banning American banks from processing payments.

An international committee of banks last week deemed state-owned Russian Railways to be in default, after sanctions stopped the company from making bond payments.

There were roughly $98 billion of Russian corporate foreign-currency bonds outstanding as the war began in February, according to JPMorgan, with $21.3 billion owned by foreign investors.

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Source: Russia Debt Default Could See the US Seize the Country’s Assets: Economist

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Critics:

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A default would make Russia more of a pariah in the global economy. Selling bonds is a critical way that countries raise foreign currencies to fund projects and raise reserves of foreign currencies, among other purposes.

But the European Union is considering a ban on energy imports from Russia, which would further limit Russia’s ability to raise money in foreign currencies.Countries that have defaulted on their bonds have eventually been welcomed back to global debt markets, but memories of a default linger and Russia may have to pay more to borrow from foreign investors in the future.

A default would also be historically significant and fraught with symbolism. It would mark the first time Russia has defaulted on foreign bond payments in more than a century (though it did default on local currency debt in 1998). Russia’s predicament is yet another consequence of its invasion of Ukraine, according to Tim Samples, a professor at the University of Georgia who specializes in foreign investment.

“This is a reflection of just how far and how fast Russia has fallen from favor in Western capital markets,” he said. Not necessarily, but most investors will need to go through a protracted legal battle to try to get the money they are owed.

Although Russia was not a big seller of foreign debt, major hedge funds and asset managers, including Invesco and PIMCO, bought bonds. Russia has 15 bonds outstanding that are denominated in dollars and euros, and altogether, they are worth around $40 billion, according to Morgan Stanley.

Much of Russia’s debt was registered in the United Kingdom, which is where it’s likely that most of the court fights will take place. It can be a complicated process, and it will take a long time to resolve. After Argentina defaulted in 2001, several efforts were made to restructure the country’s debt. All told, negotiations lasted longer than a decade.

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Russia’s Creditors May Have To Choose Between Getting Paid In Rubles Or Not Getting Paid At All

Russia’s creditors face the unappetizing prospect of accepting debt payments in rubles after the U.S. Treasury decided Monday to block the Kremlin from using its dollar reserves.

The Russian currency crashed 40% in the days after President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine but has mostly bounced back since. A default on the $636 million debt payment and further sanctions tied to alleged Russian atrocities could trigger another nosedive in the ruble’s value.

“If they can’t get their dollars, either because they’re blocked or Russia won’t pay them, and they are offered rubles and they can get access to them, they’d be smart to take the rubles,” said Jay Newman, a former portfolio manager for Elliott Management who spearheaded the hedge fund’s 15-year battle with the government of Argentina over bond payments. “Rubles at least are worth something.”

The U.S. Treasury froze Russian central bank assets held in the U.S. in February after the invasion of Ukraine, but made an exemption for debt payments that was set to expire on May 25. With Russia continuing its offensive for more than a month, however, and new images showing horrifying scenes of bodies of civilians on the streets of Bucha, Ukraine, the U.S. accelerated that timeline, blocking Russia from making debt payments to investors.

Until then, JPMorgan Chase and BNY Mellon, two New York-based banks, acted as go-betweens for Russian payments to creditors. Putin’s government continued to make payments on time throughout March, most recently with a $447 million coupon payment last week. Both JPMorgan and BNY Mellon declined to comment.

“On the one hand, there’s a sense that if a sanction target wants to use scarce resources to pay U.S. creditors back, why should we object?” said Robert Kahn, director of global macroeconomics at the Eurasia Group. “But if we’re making life easier for them by opening up these doorways, I do think that at moments like this, particularly in the context of the awful images we have seen in the last few days, the interest of creditors is just not given a very high priority.”

The Kremlin dismissed the notion on Wednesday that it’s at risk of not being able to make the payments during a 30-day grace period. Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia has “all necessary resources to service its debts” and insisted that payments could be paid in rubles if necessary. A U.S.

Treasury spokesperson said the move will deplete the resources Putin is using to continue the war. “Russia must choose between draining remaining valuable dollar reserves or new revenue coming in, or default,” the Treasury spokesperson said.

If Russia elects not to pay, it wouldn’t be the first time — a 1987 Forbes story covered a 96-year-old woman who was still waiting to be paid for czarist bonds her husband had bought in 1919 shortly after Russia defaulted on its debt during the Bolshevik Revolution.

Anton Siluanov, Russia’s minister of finance, said on state TV in March that about $300 billion of the country’s $640 billion in gold and foreign reserves has been frozen by sanctions. If Russia still has access to about $340 billion in reserves, the country appears to have more than enough to cover its total of $40 billion owed in international bonds, but Kahn said it’s not that simple and expects defaults to begin in the coming weeks.

“Dollars in a Chinese bank or gold in Moscow may be in principle unblocked, but it’s hard for them to take those and use them to buy the things they need,” Khan said. “My sense is that the usable reserves are really far lower than what the minister said.”

Russia will still be able to use revenue from sales of commodities like wheat, palladium and oil to meet its debt obligations. The U.S. has blocked imports of Russian oil, but other importing countries haven’t followed suit.

Meanwhile, trading in dollar-denominated Russian corporate bonds has skyrocketed, with investors hunting for bargains despite the reputational risk. The average daily value of trades as of March 24 was double the same period a year before and the most in two years, according to Bloomberg.

I’m a reporter on Forbes’ money team covering the wealthiest people and most influential firms on Wall Street. I’ve reported on the world’s billionaires for Forbes’ wealth team and was

Source: Russia’s Creditors May Have To Choose Between Getting Paid In Rubles Or Not Getting Paid At All

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China Blows $46 Billion A Month With ‘Zero-Covid’ Fiasco

Economists everywhere are obsessed with whether China can make this year’s 5.5% gross domestic product target. But two other figures will say far more about how Asia’s biggest economy might affect the global system.

The first—62 million—refers to the number of Shanghai-region residents being locked down this week to limit Covid-19 cases. The second—$46 billion—refers to how much GDP per month Hong Kong economist Zheng Michael Song thinks Covid policies are costing China.

Think about the epic scale of these numbers. The first is bigger than Italy’s 60 million population and almost in the neighborhood of France’s 65 million. Both are members of the Group of Seven nations. The second is bigger than Venezuela’s annual GDP of the Icelandic and Zambian economies combined.

All this because Chinese President Xi Jinping is sticking with a “zero Covid” strategy against which health experts, economists and geopolitical observers everywhere have been warning.

Take Ian Bremmer, CEO of Eurasia Group, who each year puts out a widely anticipated list of top risks for the year ahead. In 2021, for example, Bremmer’s biggest concern was Joe Biden’s ability to restore calm to Washington, post-Donald Trump presidency. For 2022, worries about China’s Covid policy topped the list, while Russia came in fifth.

Bremmer’s rationale: how China’s Covid absolutism would collide with increasingly transmissible variants. “The end of the pandemic will arrive soon as the virus collides with highly vaccinated populations and treatments that prevent death,” Bremmer argues. “But most countries, and particularly China, will have a harder time getting there. China’s zero Covid policy, which looked incredibly successful in 2020, is now fighting against a much more transmissible variant with vaccines that are only marginally effective.”

And here we are. News of fresh lockdowns in Shanghai belie hints that Xi’s government might pivot to a more “dynamic” strategy prioritizing testing and better vaccines over strict city-wide clampdowns.

“China’s Covid-19 lockdown of Shanghai saw oil prices slump overnight, as investors fretted about more sweeping containment measures, which would negatively impact China’s energy consumption,” says analyst Jeffrey Halley at Oanda.

This gets us back to the economist Song’s figures. Song, an economist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told Bloomberg and other news agencies that Xi’s lockdowns will probably cost the nation roughly 3.1% of GDP in lost output. The important caveat, though, is that the negative impact could double if Xi adds more cities to the lockdown list.

Given how risk-averse Xi is approaching 2022, this seems less an “if” than a “when.” And when that 62-million-person figure swells, so does Song’s $46 billion estimate. If things compound out from there, the global headwinds could be felt everywhere.

The good news is that Xi’s team can recalibrate if they so choose. The People’s Bank of China was ramping up stimulus before Russia’s Ukraine invasion exacerbated global uncertainty. And Xi’s government stockpiled nearly $190 billion of cash in January and February that could be deployed at any moment. Xi’s team has hinted that tax cuts may be on the way.

Yet Xi’s zero-Covid stubbornness collides with slowing growth everywhere as surging prices of oil and other commodities fuels inflation fears. Add in the Federal Reserve launching what could be a long tightening cycle and you have a near perfect storm of threats to world growth.

Another imponderable complicates 2022: how Xi’s headlong flight toward securing a third term as China leader later this year informs his priorities list. If not for this aspirational crowning achievement hovering about all Xi does, a Covid-19 pivot might’ve happened already. Xi may be loath to welcome headlines about surging infection rates ahead of coronation day.

In the meantime, economists are left to count the ways 2022 could go awry—one Chinese lockdown at a time. There also are open questions about whether surging U.S. bond yields could unnerve global markets. The Bank of Japan, too, is intervening in markets to stop interest rates from spiking.

Other potential risks include Ukraine. Xi has quite a tightrope walk between his pal Vladimir Putin and global outrage over the Russian leader’s unproved war. If Xi helps Putin evade global sanctions, U.S. President Biden and his allies might slap sanctions on the second-biggest economy.

Betting against China making its annual growth figures is often a fool’s errand. But making 5.5% in 2022 will require Xi doing the math on tradeoffs between maintaining his Covid absolutism and the GDP fallout to come.

I am a Tokyo-based journalist, former columnist for Barron’s and Bloomberg and author of “Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades.”

Source: China Blows $46 Billion A Month With ‘Zero-Covid’ Fiasco

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Is This Stock A Better Pick Over Schlumberger?

The shares of Baker Hughes (NASDAQ: BKR) currently trade 50% above pre-Covid levels observed in January 2020 while the shares of its competitor Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB) are up by just 3%. Does that make SLB stock a better pick over BKR? Both companies provide oil field services including drilling & completion and production solutions to upstream oil & gas companies in the U.S. and abroad. Due to lower benchmark price expectations in the long term, SLB and BKR incurred sizable impairment charges in 2020.

However, the recent uptick in the oil benchmark due to strong demand, supply constraints by the OPEC, and economic sanctions on Russia, have increased demand for oil rigs across the world. Given Baker Hughes’s lower financial leverage, comparable topline to Schlumberger, and a low valuation multiple, Trefis believes that the stock is a good pick to realize more gains.

We compare a slew of factors such as historical revenue growth, returns, and valuation multiple in an interactive dashboard analysis, Baker Hughes vs. Schlumberger: With Return Forecast Of 109%, Baker Hughes Is A Better Bet

1. Revenue Growth

Baker Hughes has observed a lower decline in revenues in recent years as compared to Schlumberger. Baker Hughes revenues observed an annual decline of 4% from $22.8 billion in 2018 to $20.5 billion in 2021, whereas Schlumberger reported an annual decline of 11% from $32.8 billion in 2018 to $22.9 billion in 2021. Top line contraction has largely been due to a decline in rig count figures and capital control measures implemented by upstream companies.

  • Schlumberger’s four operating segments, Digital & Integration, Reservoir Performance, Well Construction, and Production Systems contribute 12%, 28%, 36%, and 24% of total revenues, respectively. The uncertain demand environment had persuaded upstream companies to limit capital expenses in the last two years. However, the surge in benchmark prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war has rekindled demand for oil field services – taking worldwide rig count figures from 1,521 in December 2021 to 1,850 at present. Moreover, the company’s digital solutions business is likely to assist margin expansion in the coming years.
  • Baker Hughes’ four operating segments, Oilfield Services, Oilfield Equipment, Turbomachinery & Process Solutions, and Digital Solutions contribute 47%, 12%, 31%, and 10% of total revenues, respectively. The company’s international operations have been assisting the top line in recent times, which observed a 10% contraction from pre-pandemic levels and contributes 80% of total revenues.
  • After reporting relatively flat revenues for FY2021, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger are expected to observe strong growth in FY2022. (related: How Does Schlumberger Make Money?)

2.Returns (Profits)

As both companies incurred sizable impairment charges leading to 25% contraction of the balance sheet, we compare their cash generation capabilities. In 2021, Schlumberger generated $4.6 billion of operating cash from $22.9 billion in total revenues – implying an operating cash flow margin of 20%. Whereas Baker Hughes reported $20.5 billion in total revenues and $2.3 billion of operating cash flow – resulting in a margin of 11%.

  • Schlumberger’s cash generation capabilities have been stronger than Baker Hughes which has resulted in a sizable difference in the P/S ratio. In 2021, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes’ P/S multiple was 1.5 and 1.2 respectively. Historically, it has been observed that there is a difference of 0.5 units between Schlumberger and Baker Hughes.
  • However, the difference between Schlumberger’s non-cash depreciation charges and capital expenditures was higher than Baker Hughes – affecting the operating cash flow margin figures.
  • Before the pandemic, Schlumberger returned 50% of operating cash to shareholders as dividends and invested 30% in property, plant & equipment as capital expenses.
  • Whereas, Baker Hughes had been investing its operating cash in capital assets.
  • Both companies implemented cash control measures and limited capital expenses as well as dividend payouts due to the pandemic. Given Schlumberger’s higher cash generation capabilities and historical dividend trends, it is a good pick to earn consistent dividend income.

3.Risk

Per annual filings, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes reported $13 billion and $6.7 billion of long-term debt, respectively. While a shrinking asset base due to impairment charges is a drag on shareholder returns, Baker Hughes’ lower financial leverage is a boon during uncertain times.

  • Higher financial leverage coupled with continued revenue growth augments equity returns. However, interest expenses weigh on finances as revenues decline – limiting dividend payouts and capital expenses.
  • Schlumberger’s higher financial leverage compared to Baker Hughes, despite similar revenues and a comparable balance sheet size, makes SLB stock a riskier bet.
  • In 2021, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes’ total assets were $41 billion and $35 billion, respectively.

What if you’re looking for a more balanced portfolio instead? Here’s a high-quality portfolio that’s beaten the market consistently since the end of 2016.

Led by MIT engineers and Wall Street analysts, Trefis (through its dashboards platform dashboards.trefis.com) helps you understand how a company’s products.

Source: Is This Stock A Better Pick Over Schlumberger?

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Critics:

U.S. oil field services company Baker Hughes said Saturday that it was suspending new investments for its Russia operations, a day after similar moves were announced by rivals Halliburton Co. and Schlumberger.

The steps from the Houston, Texas-based businesses come as they respond to U.S. sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In its statement, Baker Hughes, which also has headquarters in London, said the company is complying with applicable laws and sanctions as it fulfills current contractual obligations. It said the announcement follows an internal decision made with its board and shared with its top leadership team.

“The crisis in Ukraine is of grave concern, and we strongly support a diplomatic solution,” said Lorenzo Simonelli, chairman and CEO of Baker Hughes. Halliburton announced Friday that it suspended future business in Russia. Halliburton said it halted all shipments of specific sanctioned parts and products to Russia several weeks ago and that it will prioritize safety and reliability as it winds down its remaining operations in the country.

Schlumberger said that it had suspended investment and technology deployment to its Russia operations. “Safety and security are at the core of who we are as a company, and we urge a cessation of the conflict and a restoration of safety and security in the region,” Schlumberger CEO Olivier Le Peuch said in a statement.

Oil companies ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP, along with some major tech companies like Dell and Facebook, were among the first to announce their withdrawal or suspension of operations. Many others, including McDonald’s, Starbucks and Estee Lauder, followed. Roughly 30 companies remain.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday asked Congress to press U.S. businesses still operating in Russia to leave, saying the Russian market is “flooded with our blood.”

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Russia Launches Eurobond Rouble Buyback Offer on Looming $2 bln Bond Payment

A view shows Russian rouble coins in this picture illustration taken October 26, 2018. Picture taken October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

  • Eurobond rouble payment offer rekindles default fears
  • Moscow does not say if bondholders must take roubles
  • Russia has already demanded gas payments in roubles
  • Move may help locals facing dollar payment restrictions

LONDON, March 29 (Reuters) – Russia has offered to buy back dollar bonds maturing next week in roubles in a move seen by analysts as helping local holders of the $2 billion sovereign issue receive payment, while also easing the country’s hard-currency repayment burden.

The finance ministry offer on Eurobonds maturing on April 4, Russia’s biggest debt payment this year, follows Western moves to tighten sanctions against the country over its invasion of Ukraine and to freeze Moscow out of international finance.

Moscow, which calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation”, says Western measures amount to “economic war”. In response, it has introduced countermeasures and has demanded foreign firms pay for Russian gas in roubles rather than dollars or euros. read more

The bonds – issued in 2012 – would be bought at a price equivalent to 100% of their nominal value, the ministry said its statement. Buying back bonds will reduce the overall size of the outstanding bond when it matures on April 4.

However, it was not immediately clear if the amount the government would buy back was limited or what would happen to holdings of creditors that would not tender their bonds.

The terms of the bond prescribe that repayment has to occur in dollars. Repaying at maturity in roubles might again raise the prospect of Russia’s first external sovereign default in a century.

Analysts and investors said the move was likely designed to help Russian holders who now face restrictions in receiving dollar payments.

“This is a tender offer and not a final decision that these bonds will be paid in roubles. Perhaps, Russian authorities want to gauge investors’ willingness to accept payment in roubles?” said Seaport Global credit analyst Himanshu Porwal.

Tim Ash of BlueBay Asset Management, which is not a bondholder, said the move was part of a fight back by Russia’s central bank and finance ministry “to fend off default and stabilise markets and the rouble”.

Ash said the United States’ Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which enforces U.S. sanctions, “should make clear” it will not extend a deadline of May 25 for U.S. individuals or entities to receive payments on Russian sovereign bonds.

Russia’s finance ministry said in its statement on Tuesday that bondholders should submit requests to sell their holdings to the National Settlement Depository between 1300 GMT on March 29 and 1400 GMT on March 30.

SECURING PAYMENT

A fund manager said the ministry’s offer might be designed to help Russian investors secure payment because Euroclear, an international settlement system, had been blocking dollar payments to the Russian clearing system.

“Everybody wants dollars right now – in and outside Russia – so I would assume that only local holders and local banks that have issues with sanctions will make use of this operation,” said Kaan Nazli, portfolio manager at Neuberger Berman, which recently reduced its exposure to Russian sovereign debt.

Nazli, who said he had not previously seen a buyback that switched the repayment currency, added that foreign investors were unlikely to be interested given the rouble “is no longer a convertible currency.”

The rouble initially crumbled after the West imposed sanctions, plunging as much as 40% in value against the dollar since the start of 2022. It has since recovered and was trading down about 10% in Moscow on Tuesday.

The finance ministry did not provide a breakdown of foreign and Russian holders of the Eurobond-2022. It did not respond to a request about how much of the outstanding $2 billion it wanted to buy back or what would happen if investors refused the offer.

The bond has a 30-day grace period and no provisions for payments in alternative currencies, JPMorgan said.

According to Refinitiv database eMAXX, which analyses public filings, major asset managers such as Brandywine, Axa, Morgan Stanley Investment Management, BlackRock were recently among the holders of the bond coming due on April 4.

The finance ministry had said earlier on Tuesday it had fully paid a $102 million coupon on Russia’s Eurobond due in 2035, its third payout since Western sanctions called into question Moscow’s ability to service its foreign currency debt.

Russian sovereign debt repayments have so far gone through, staving off a default, although sanctions have frozen a chunk of Moscow’s huge foreign reserves. Russian officials have said any problem with payment that led to a formal declaration of default would be an artificial default.

Russia’s next payment is on March 31 when a $447 million payment falls due. On April 4, it also should pay $84 million in coupon a 2042 sovereign dollar bond

By
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Critics:

Despite warnings from credit-rating agencies, the government has so far sidestepped a default and continues to service its foreign bonds after sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine severed Russia from the global financial system. Capital controls and restrictions imposed by the world’s biggest settlement systems have complicated and delayed the arrival of funds on previous payments for foreign and local investors alike.  

“For the Finance Ministry, this reduces potential amount of foreign currency payments, which is also desirable for them,” Donets said. “The absolute majority of the local holders will use this option. No one is talking about a full shift to paying in rubles for all Russia eurobonds.” Earlier on Tuesday, the Finance Ministry said it had made a $102 million coupon payment on a dollar bond maturing in 2035. 

The buyback offer comes after the ministry filed notifications on Monday for an “interest payment” and “principal repayment” on the $2 billion of dollar-denominated debt due on April 4. It also filed a notification for a coupon on bonds due in April 2042. 

The Treasury Department issued a general license on March 2 that allows U.S. persons to receive bond payments from the central bank of Russia through May 25, further draining the country’s resources as it prosecutes a war in Ukraine, according to a Treasury spokesperson. Questions about where exactly the funds were being drawn were referred to the central bank of Russia.

Foreign bondholders of Russian steelmaker Novolipetsk Steel received coupon payments due March 21 on time, while local noteholders didn’t receive them, the company said in a statement a week ago. Two days later, an overdue interest payment on a sovereign Eurobond began to show up in some overseas investors’ accounts. 

“The government wants to remove the risk of default due to technical payment issues,” said Cristian Maggio, head of portfolio strategy at Toronto Dominion Bank in London. 

Despite the uncertainties, the ruble has strengthened in 13 of the past 14 trading sessions in Moscow, paring most of the 33% decline that it incurred in onshore trading from late February through early March. The rebound is a result of central bank policies, such as capital controls, that enforce buying and limit selling the ruble, said Natalie Rivett, senior emerging-market analyst at Informa Global Markets Ltd.

More contents:

G-7 Rejects Putin Demand for Ruble Payments for Russian Gas

 

Will Russian Bonds Default? Investors Keep Watch: QuickTake

Russia Signals Repayment Coming for $2 Blion Bond Due in April

Russia Bond Payment Uncertainty Grows With Clearstream Step 

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