A sanctioned shareholder of a company with close ties to the Kremlin summed up the current climate by recounting a recent conversation he had with his personal asset manager. The manager called to congratulate him on a good year — good because he hasn’t invested in anything so he’s got nothing to lose.
What efforts the government has made to ease the repatriation process haven’t been encouraging. The special sale of a Eurobond in March raised just $200 million, or 5 percent of the target. And so far there’s been little interest in the two “offshore” zones inside Russia the government created to encourage the relocation of overseas companies by offering tax-free dividends in exchange for full transparency.
With no comprehensive plan for assistance from the government, companies are being left to prepare for tougher U.S. measures on their own. The penalties on Deripaska, in particular, shocked boardrooms across Russia into action. The billionaire’s United Co. Rusal, the biggest aluminum supplier outside China, was almost forced to halt production after international banks froze the accounts of companies he controls regardless of the currencies they held.
“It showed how any international business can be brought to its knees in a second,” said Slava Smolyaninov, a strategist at BCS Global Markets in Moscow. “That was a real eye-opener for many tycoons.”
Since then, exporters that have long dealt mainly in dollars, which dominates global trade, have taken steps to minimize their use of the U.S. currency. They still hold substantial amounts of dollars and euros for commercial purposes, but they’re starting to stockpile rubles for emergency use or future payouts to their owners.